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THE CITIZEN WRITER IN RETROSPECT 



Albert Maltz 



Interviewed by Joel Gardner 



VOLUME I 



Completed under the auspices 

of the 

Oral History Program 

University of California 

Los Angeles 



Copyright (c) 1983 
The Regents of the University of California 



This manuscript is hereby made available for research 
purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, 
including the right to publication, are reserved to the 
University Library of the University of California, 
Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted 
for publication without the written permission of the 
University Librarian of the University of California, 
Los Angeles. 



CONTENTS 
VOLUME I 

Introduction xi 

Interview History xvi 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side One (February 13, 1975) 1 

Family background: Father's family from Lithuania, 
mother's from Poland--Mother stricken with trachoma 
— Maltz family: life in Williamsburg, N.Y. — Move 
to Flatbush--Family atmosphere--The neighborhood 
--Learning to fight. 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side Two (February 13, 19 7 5) 21 

Early schooling — Hidden polio — Father's fortunes 
take upswing with building boom; builds foundation 
to weather Depression — Brothers' careers--Erasmus 
Hall High School--Summer camp and dramatics-- 
Theater-going in New York City — Father's illnesses. 

TAPE NUMBER: II, Side One (February 13, 1975) 44 

Father's illness and its effect on the family — 
Newly awakening interest in books. 

[Second Part] (August 5, 1976) 50 

Thoughts on high school — Columbia University: 
applies, is rejected, then finally accepted-- 
Contracts mononucleosis; leaves school to 
recuperate--Returns to Columbia--Philosophy with 
Irwin Edman--Friendship with Kenesaw Mountain 
Landis, Jr., Jules Eisenbud, Beryl Levy. 

TAPE NUMBER: II, Side Two (August 5, 1976) 68 

Beryl Levy, Milton Katims, Ben Maddow — Thoughts 
on modern poetry--Philosophy excludes study in 
other fields — Laboratory mishaps — Metaphysical 
questions — English with John Erskine--Toys with 
idea of writing--Writes short stories and first 
novel--Peter Odegard — A lesson in bad teaching — 
Advantages of a background in philosophy — State 
of Maltz 's political consciousness--Great Books 
with Mortimer Adler and Mark Van Doren — Trip to 
Europe with brother — Effects of the Depression 
on young Maltz. 

iv 



TAPE NUMBER: III, Side One (August 5, 1976) 92 

Idea of writing play about uncle in prison-- 
Irapressions of prison life--Writes novel during 
last year at Columbia: reflection of Maltz's 
aversion to terrorism and injustice--Accepted at 
Yale School of Drama. 

[Second Part] (August 12, 1976) 101 

George Pierce Baker--The nature of the Yale drama 
school--Inf luential instructors: Alexander Dean, 
Donald Oenslager, John Mason Brown--Well-rounded 
and technical theatrical training — Playwrights 
studied; emphasis on O'Neill and Ibsen--Brecht . 

TAPE NUMBER: III, Side Two (August 12, 1976) 113 

Suspense versus surprise--Empty symbolism — First 
certain encounters with acquaintances' homosexuality 
— Comments on class (family) consciousness — George 
Sklar, Elia Kazan, and Alan Baxter — Exposure to 
radical thought during meeting at Charles Recht ' s 
— Hanging out at speakeasies--Family themes in 
playwriting--Aesthetic differences of opinion — 
Play is submitted to Group Theatre: Harold Clurman, 
Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawf ord--Father has stroke: 
Maltz leaves school — Sklar and Maltz begin work 
on Merry Go Round . 

TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side One (August 12, 1976) 135 

Collaboration with George Sklar — Tours U.S. Steel 
mill, effects of Depression--Rumors of Nazi 
atrocities-- Merry Go Round submitted for 
production — Pinker-Morrison Agency scandal — Jed 
Harris — Michael Blankfort and Walter Hart agree 
to produce play at Provincetown--Favorable 
reviews — Flack from Tammany Hall--Play moves 
uptown; harassment continues--Play closes after 
six weeks — Lessons learned. 

[Second Part] (August 19, 1976) 154 

Uses pseudonym — The Leblang Agency — Merry Go Round 
sold and made into film Afraid to Talk --Wolf gang 
Langoff and Deutsches Theater. 



TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side Two (August 19, 1976) 159 

Langoff, cont'd. — Plays as films — Opportunities 
for new playwrights; then versus now-- -Merry Go 
Round reviews — Sklar and Maltz: brief stint 
with Paramount Pictures--Problems in adapting 
Dashiell Hammett to screen — Leaves L.A. and begins 
work on novel Bury the Dead (unpublished) --Visits 
Boulder Dam: working conditions--Chicago funeral 
march--Uneraployed organizations--Sklar and Maltz 
return to N.Y. to work on Peace on Earth- -Plans 
for the Theatre Union. 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side One (August 19, 1976) 182 

Widespread union strikes and violence: Gastonia, 
Harlan County — Depression atmosphere: background 
for radicalization--Appeal of the Communist party 
— Reading Marxist literature; a new breed of 
philosophy — Interest in Soviet Union: myths and 
misconceptions — Soviet film. 

[Second Part] (August 26, 1976) 197 

Graduates of American and European universities 
compared--Passage of time, then and now. 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side Two (August 26, 1976) 202 

Sexual attitudes — Prudishness in theater--Bonus 
march in Washington, D.C. — Unemployed Councils 
and the hunger march on Washington — Michael Gold 
--Scottsboro boys--Political milieu: social 
fascism and Hitler's rise to power. 

TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side One (August 26, 1976) 221 

International relations between Socialists and 
Communists — Nazi book burnings — Roosevelt and the 
New Deal — Growth in artistic activity — Labor 
struggles for elementary rights--Angelo Herndon 
court case — Death of father and mother — Sklar and 
Maltz write Peace on Earth for Theatre Union — 
Organizing Theatre Union — Charles Rumford Walker 
and the Theatre Union Executive Board — Good and 
bad resource materials on left-wing theater in 
the thirties — Theatre Union advisory board-- 
Agitprop theaters. 



VI 



TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side Two (August 26, 1976) 237 

Agitprop theater in Europe and the U.S. --Goals 
of Theatre Union--Innovative policies --Peace__on 
Earth opens to disastrous reviews--Emergency 
ineasures--Sklar and Paul Peters write and produce 
Stevedore — Slanted history. 

TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side One (September 3, 1976) .... 254 

Stevedore — Sets out on trip — Strike in Toledo, 
inspiration for Private Hicks — General labor 
picture at the time--Pittsburgh steel mill union 
organ izing--"Good-By "--Library , Pennsylvania-- 
Communist-led unions — Black Pit — Farmers' situation 
in Sisseton, South Dakota: vigilante violence-- 
Shares speakers' platform with Ruby Bates. 

TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side Two (September 3, 1976) .... 274 

Begins writing Black Pit --Harry Bridges and the 
longshoremen's unions--Elected to board of 
Dramatists Guild-- Sailors of Cattaro — Clifford 
Odets and Waiting for Lefty — Elia Kazan--Production 
of Black Pit : controversy over content, flak 
from Left — Political background on World War II . 

TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side One (September 3, 1976) . . . .292 

France and Britain's appeasement of Nazi Germany 
--Misconceptions about the Communist party in 
the thirties — Theatre Arts Committee and League 
of American Writers--Reports on the Soviet Union 
--First American Writers Congress — Theatre Union 
negotiates to produce Brecht's Mother — Maltz 
develops relationship with Margaret Larkin — Sexual 
mores, past and present — Writes Private Hicks 
for a play contest — Joins Communist party in 1935. 

TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side Two (September 16, 1976) . . . 310 

American Communist party in the thirties and 
forties--Mechanics of joining — Party functions — 
Difficulty finding time to write — Turns from 
playwriting to fiction — Private Hicks wins New 
Theatre League contest — Plight of antifascist 
demonstrator, later inspiration for Pride of the 
Marines . 



VI 1 



TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side One (September 16, 1976) .... 329 

Dalton Trumbo on the Communist party — Theatre 
Union production of Mother ; conflicts with Brecht 
--Communist party's relation with Theatre Union 
--Avert financial catastrophe by presenting Albert 
Bein's Let Freedom Ring --Short stories--Theatre 
Union opens Bitter Stream --Theatre Union moves 
to new location. 

TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side Two (September 16, 1976) .... 348 

Political background of 1936: Spanish civil war. 

[Second Part] (September 15, 1978) . . . .352 

Impact of Spanish civil war on U.S. — Further 
description of Brecht — Writing techniques — Myth 
of the lonely writer--Maxim Lieber--Communist 
writer's relationship with Communist party: 
censure and censorship--Hollywood Communists and 
John Howard Lawson--So-called party censorship 
versus self-censorship. 

TAPE NUMBER: X, Side One (September 15, 1978) 368 

Self-censorship — Moscow trials--Goes to Detroit 
to get material for The Underground Stream --Sit- 
down strikes in automobile plants-- "Bodies by 
Fisher" and "Marching Song." 

TAPE NUMBER: X, Side Two (September 20, 1978) 385 

Sit-down strikes-- A Long Day in a Short Life — 
Grebb --AFL and CIO conf licts--Communist influence 
in unions — Returns to N .Y .--Theatre Union opens 
"Marching Song" to bad reviews--Forced to fold — 
Other left-wing theaters — Historical writing. 

TAPE NUMBER: XI, Side One (September 29, 1978) .... 404 

Proletarian literature — "Man on a Road" — Lost 
works of literature--Migration of European 
intellectuals into U.S.: Franz Weiskopf, Egon 
Erwin Kisch, Otto Katz, Karl Billinger — Second 
Congress of League of American Writers--Work 
begins on The Underground Stream --Teaches class 
in playwriting at N.Y.U. — Thoughts on social 
fascism. 



Vlll 



TAPE NUMBER: XI, Side Two (September 20, 1978) .... 425 

Social fascism in the twenties and thirties 
preserves split in German working class; paves 
way for Hitler fascism. 

[Second Part] (October 3, 1978) 427 

Other contributing factors — Songs of the Left: 
Spanish civil war influence — Ralph Bates — Lini 
DeVries--Germans invade Austria--Rise of nazism 
binds U.S. leftist with USSR — Soviet position 
against anti-Semitism — League of American Writers 
aids exiled writers — "Happiest Man on Earth"-- 
Finishes play Rehearsal — The Way Things Are 
published by International Publishers--Gambler ' s 
aspect of a writer's life. 

TAPE NUMBER: XII, Side One (October 3, 1978) 446 

More on the life of a writer — Lini DeVries and 
the work of the U.S. Public Health Service in 
New Mexico — Moves to Sunnyside — Class for writers 
continues--Munich Pact, 1938 — Invasion of 
Czechoslovakia and defeat of Spanish Republicans 
— Rise of anti-Semitism in U .S . --Coughlinism-- 
Equality magazine. 

TAPE NUMBER: XII, Side Two (October 3, 1978) 465 

Equality - -Articles — Writers Conference in the 
Rocky Mountains: Edward Davidson, Eric Knight, 
Norman Corwin, Carl Van Doren, Burges Johnson — 
Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact — Ties with Soviet 
Union--U.S. Communist party takes isolationist 
position in World War II — Collaboration with 
Dashiell Hammett on article. 

TAPE NUMBER: XIII, Side One (November 8, 1978). . . . 478 

The Underground Stream is published — Writing 
fiction vs. playwriting--Articles for Equality 
— Sklar and Maltz invited by Hollywood Communist 
party to do revised Peace on Earth --Back to 
Boulder and on to Queens--Making ends meet — 
Research into black history for "The Piece of 
Paper" and projected novel — "The Happiest Man 
on Earth" made into short film by MGM — Joins 
Sklar and Blankfort in Hollywood: works on 
This Gun for Hire for Frank Tuttle and Paramount — 



IX 



Ill-suited for California weather — Gerinany 

invades Soviet Union — Movie studios in the forties, 

TAPE NUMBER: XIII, Side Two (November 8, 1978). . . .500 

Problems of writers writing for films — Dudley 
Nichols — This Gun for Hire — Adapting other 
writers' works vs. original work — Answering 
charges against Communist film writers — Cecil 
B. De Mille--John Howard Lawson: his influence, 
benign and malign — Pearl Harbor and the internment 
of the Japanese — The Man on Half-Moon Street — This 
Gun for Hire is released. 



INTRODUCTION 

I suspect that most of the readers who will seek out 
this oral history will be, as I was when I first approached 
Albert Maltz, in search of a political memoir. After all, 
for slightly more than twenty years, Maltz stood in the midst 
of the most significant political struggle of this century. 
During the thirties and forties, there was not a cause involv- 
ing human or political rights that did not capture his atten- 
tion. He devoted enormous amounts of time and energy to the 
realization of a vision of radical democracy gleaned from his 
understanding of the principles of Thomas Paine, Thomas 
Jefferson, the Abolitionists, and the Marxists, among others. 
As a member of the Communist party, the League of American 
Writers, the Authors Guild, the Screen Writers Guild, and, 
reluctantly, the Hollywood Nineteen, Maltz fought for the 
rights of workers and against racism, anti-Semitism, thought 
control, and wars for profits and empire. His commitment 
was rewarded with a jail sentence: one year in the federal 
prison at Mill Point, West Virginia; he had, in 1947, finally 
gone too far: he had dared to challenge the right of a com- 
mittee of Congress to inquire into his political beliefs and 
activities . 

Nine other Hollywood workers went to prison in the 
summer of 19 50, and the careers of all were marked by the 



XI 



experience. In Maltz's case, he was forever identified as 
a man solidly rooted in the mainstream of American radical 
politics and marked as a man of courage and integrity and 
fidelity to ideals. Unfortunately, Maltz's decision to 
defend, loudly and clearly, the First Amendment foreshortened 
the public identity about which he cared most. For he was 
and remains, first and foremost, a writer: a gifted, pro- 
lific, impassioned, committed writer, who, in 1947, stood 
on the threshold of an important literary career. Moving 
steadily and smoothly from stage plays to short stories and 
then to novels (and using screen writing as a means of sup- 
port) , Maltz was reaching an artistic crest in his depiction 
of people involved in difficult or contradictory situations 
and faced with moral choices requiring courageous action. 
And although much of his work contained sharp and accurate 
criticisms of the country and culture that shaped him, Maltz 
never felt alienated from America; he termed himself a 
"citizen-writer," a writer with a responsibility to alter the 
inegalitarian and unjust practices he witnessed. 

He did not consider himself a martyr to the cause of 
freedom. He did not wear his prison sentence as a badge of 
honor. And although he would write, "To be locked up is a 
very, very deep violation of one's living spirit," he does 
not consider jail the worst experience of his life. Nor did 
he emerge from prison an embittered man. He was too politi- 



Xll 



cally sophisticated, too much a student of history to be 
surprised by being caught in what was, finally, the latest 
in a series of reactionary, oppressive political waves that 
periodically sweep the American landscape. Maltz clearly 
saw the parallels between the events of 1947 and the events 
of the late 1790s, the period of the Alien and Sedition Acts. 
One of the most frequently consulted and heavily underlined 
books in Maltz 's extensive library is Claude G. Bowers *s 
Jefferson and Hamilton . Maltz, like the Jeffersonian news- 
paper editors who ran afoul of the Adams administration as 
a result of their criticism of its policies, had no choice: 
he had to resist. He knew that jail was one of the possible 
outcomes of that choice. 

He emerged from jail with his vocation as a writer intact 
(one of his best novels, A Long Day in a Short Life , in fact, 
developed from events he witnessed in a Washington, D.C., 
lockup while awaiting transfer to Mill Point) , but his career 
as a writer was seriously damaged. Publicly blacklisted from 
the movie studios and blacklisted de facto by the American 
publishing industry, Maltz continued to write but not to be 
read in this country. As a result, the year in jail took on 
a heightened image in Maltz 's mind. Always meticulous and 
accurate about facts, causes, effects, and motives, he became 
even more so in the years after his release. 

Those who know only that Albert Maltz was one of the 



Xlll 



Hollywood Ten probably also know his writings only through 
the letters he has written to various publications over the 
years, notably those challenging the recollections of screen 
writers who lived through the blacklist era. No book on the 
subject of Hollywood and the blacklist would be complete 
without extensive quotation from the correspondence between 
Maltz and Dalton Trumbo elicited by Trumbo's oft-quoted phrase 
that during the blacklist era "there were only victims." 
Trumbo's desire to express magnanimity on the occasion of 
receiving the Writers Guild of America's Laurel Award dis- 
pleased most of his former political associates; it enraged 
Maltz. Not mincing words, Maltz wrote: "To say that those 
who aided and applauded these committees, and did their 
bidding, were also 'victims' along with those who opposed 
them and thereby suffered public humiliation, slander, job 
blacklist and blasted careers, is factual nonsense and lacking 
in moral judgment." 

Although he would not see it this way, it has always 
seemed to me that Maltz has become a keeper of the flame of 
truth of the blacklist era. It is not an obsession — it 
hardly consumes his life — but it is an obligatory aspect of 
his life as a citizen-writer, and it is a smaller part of the 
greater truth about Maltz 's passion for accuracy and historical 
exactitude. Each of his novels is represented in his house 
by the long shelves of books he has read to provide him with 



xiv 



the historical data and social texture of the particular era 
that concerns him. He steeps himself in the history of his 
subject, seeking and reading everything that is germane. 

In the course of my talks with Maltz, I always thought 
that he would have been a fine historian. He has a finely 
tuned appreciation for documentation. In this oral history, 
he has proven me correct, documenting for future historians 
and generations a meritorious life. It is a reflection of 
the integrity of Maltz as citizen-writer and the emergence 
of Maltz as author-historian, the capstone of his lifelong 
goal to keep the record straight. 

— Larry Ceplair, 1981 



XV 



INTERVIEW HISTORY 



INTERVIEWER: Joel Gardner, senior editor, Oral History 
Program, B.A, , M.S., French, Tulane University; 
M.A. , Journalism, UCLA. 

TIME AND SETTING OF INTERVIEW: 

Place : Maltz's Los Angeles home. 

Dates ; February 13, 1975; August 5, 12, 19, 26, 
September 3, 16, 1976; September 15, 16, 20, October 
3, November 8, 15, 21, December 8, 18, 22, 1978; 
January 3, 9, and 26 (video), 1979. 

Time of day, length of sessions, and total number 
of recording hours : Interviews took place mornings 
or afternoons, either before or after lunch. 
Sessions lasted about three hours apiece. Thirty- 
six hours of conversation were recorded. 

Persons present : Maltz and Gardner. 

CONDUCT OF INTERVIEW: 

The interviewer embarked on the project with a 
thorough grounding in the history of screenwriting 
in the 1930s and '40s. Already familiar with the 
literary setting, he delved into Maltz's published 
works — stories, novels, and essays — and his 
screenplays. He also read widely in the political 
history of the period. Finally, he read from the 
transcript of Maltz's testimony before the House 
Committee on Un-American Activities, summations of 
the committee's investigations of the motion 
picture industry, and about the years of black-listing 
that followed those investigations. 

Nevertheless, the interviewer's preparation paled 
before that of the interviewee. Maltz made 
voluminous notes prior to each session. He cited a 
variety of sources, quoting directly onto the tape. 
Occasional questions interrupted the recounting 
of the autobiography, for, in the interviewer's 
perspective, the interviewee dictated his life story 
in the presence of an oral historian. 

Maltz recorded back-up cassette tapes during each 
session — fortunately, as it turned out. 



XVI 



EDITING: 

The processing of the Maltz oral history was not 
without its difficulties. Prior to transcription, 
two tapes (XVI and XVII) were misplaced. Deborah 
Young, assistant editor, was dispatched to conduct 
a replacement session October 25, 1979. Subsequently 
the original tapes were located. (The replacement 
tape and transcript are available to researchers. 
See SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS below) . During transcription 
blank spots were discovered on several tapes. These 
were filled by means of the interviewee's cassettes 
(see CONDUCT OF INTERVIEW) . 

Editing was done by Young. She checked the verbatim 
transcript against the original tape recordings and 
edited for punctuation, paragraphing, spelling, and 
verification of proper nouns. Words and phrases 
inserted by the editor for clarity have been 
bracketed. 

Maltz reviewed and approved the edited transcript, 
which was then final typed. While proofreading, 
Rick Harmon, editor, became concerned about some 
apparent inconsistencies. These were submitted to 
the interviewee, corrected, and inserted into the 
text. During indexing (by Mitch Tuchman, principal 
editor) , further queries arose, and Maltz patiently 
and generously dealt with those as well. 

The introduction was written by Larry Ceplair, co- 
author of The Inquisition in Hollywood; Politics 
in the Film Community, 1930-1960 . 

SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS: 

The original tape recordings and edited transcript of 
the interview are in the University Archives and are 
available under the regulations governing the use of 
permanent noncurrent records of the University. 
Records relating to the interview are located in the 
office of the UCLA Oral History Program. In addition, 
several other items have been placed in the Archive. 
These include: the tapes and transcript of the 
Maltz/Young session, the text of the famous Waldorf 
statement issued by the motion picture producers at 
the time of the congressional contempt citations 
against the Hollywood Ten, copies of correspondence 
between Maltz and attorney Ben Margolis and between 



xvii 



Ring Lardner, Jr., and Margolis, an excerpt from 
Maltz's book The Citizen Writer , as well as a copy 
of that book, Maltz has donated a print of the 
film The Hollywood Ten . It is available for 
viewing in the UCLA Film Archive. 



XVlll 



TAPE NUMBER: I, SIDE ONE 
FEBRUARY 13, 19 75 

GARDNER: Mr. Maltz, as we discussed beforehand, the inter- 
view begins with the chronological beginning; so if you'd like 
to discuss your birth and early years and perhaps something 
about your family. . . . 

MALTZ: Yes, I will. My family, as with anyone, is very 
important. But an observation occurs to me with which I 
might begin. My first wife [Margaret] came from a long line 
of people who had come first to the United States around, I 
think, 1630, in one branch of the family, and the other in 
around 1650--one branch English and Scotch, and the other 
German. And she had a genealogy that went back in through 
all of the United States: this uncle had been an engraver 
in the Philadelphia mint; and Paul Revere had borrowed his 
horse from Deacon John Larkin, who was her so-and-so (her 
name was Larkin, the family name was Larkin) , so on and so 
forth, and it went back into England. And at one point in 
my life, when I was already quite mature, I tried to 
question my mother's sisters (my mother was then dead) and 
my father about their background, their history, and what 
happened to them. And I found out with them (and I have 
since found out with almost anyone I can recall) that if 
you were the American-born children of immigrants, the 
immigrants have practically no history to tell you. I don't 



know of any person whose parents were foreign-born where the 
parents can say, "Oh, we came from such and such, and such 
and such, and we went back such and such, and such and such 
and such." Presumably there are some. I'm sure that there 
are some English people who live here and others who go back 
far, but at least among those I've asked, and particularly, 
I would say, among Jewish immigrants, there is a lack of 
knowledge of their history. So that I know about my father 
that he came here when he was about fourteen with his 
father and mother, whose name was Maltz. They came from 
Lithuania, and I presume from somewhere near the German 
border; I'm not so sure but that their forebears might not 
have originally come from Germany, because the name Maltz 
is fairly common, I've found, in Germany. 

But I have no memory. I think that his father was a 
miller in Lithuania. Why they left, I don't know — maybe 
for the general reasons that most immigrants did: to seek a 
better life or to avoid army service or this kind of thing. 
And I don't even know — I never knew my grandfather, so that 
he died fairly early along the way. I know that my father 
had no schooling here, but [he had] a multitude of jobs 
such as many immigrants had: he was a peddler; he worked in 
a grocery store; at one point he, I think, painted flowers 
on cups. He had a certain artistic bent, as a matter of 
fact. Along the line he seemed to have picked up the knowledge 



of how to play the mandolin, because when he courted 

my mother, whose name was Lena Sherry, he courted her in 

the course of teaching her how to play the mandolin. And 

the mandolin was an instrument in our family, when I grew 

up, that he would occasionally play. 

GARDNER: At what point did he come to America? Do you know 

the date? 

MALTZ: Well, I can say this: he died in the year 1934--no, 

1933, at the age of fifty-six. So if I get a pencil, I 

can figure it out. 

GARDNER: So that would mean that he was born in 1878, then. 

MALTZ: Yes, in 1878. And he worked at a great many jobs. 

I don't know at what point his father died, and I don't 

know anything of any brothers, but at some point along the 

line, before I was born, he became a house painter and met 

and married my mother. I'll now pause with my mother's family, 

She was, I believe, two years older than he and came to 
this country from Poland as an infant in arms; I think she 
was about a year old. I was told that her father — no, her 
grandfather had been some sort of foreman on a rather large 
estate not far from Warsaw, which is an unusual story for 
a Jewish man. But you find exceptions in the general history 
of things, so it may or may not have been true. In any 
instance, her own father was, I think, a Hebrew teacher, and 
he died shortly after they came to the United States, leaving 



his wife — that is to say, my grandmother on that side--with 

four daughters and one son. And my grandmother, who was 

a marvelous human being, apparently made a living on the 

East Side of New York by being a bootlegger, [laughter] 

She made bathtub liquor, or Wishnick. (I forget what 

Wishnick is — it's a brandy, I believe, made out of raisins 

or prunes, that's what it is.) And she used to apparently 

lug bottles of this, or pails of this, up the four- and five- 

and six-flight tenements, and she would sell [it] in order 

to keep her family alive. And one of her daughters became 

a schoolteacher; a second one became a bookkeeper; a third 

one was rather retarded, a bit on the slow side — not excessively 

so, but I suppose she had some petty jobs; and another one 

I knew when she was married--what work she did, I didn't 

know. And then her son at some point along the line went 

into the navy and remained a career man in the navy for 

some years. He became a petty officer, chief petty officer. 

I know that he was in the Philippines around the period, 

either around — I'd have to check this out — or after, shortly 

after the period in which the United States was putting down 

the Aguinaldo insurrection, because in her home there was 

a book of photographs which I've pored over many times 

showing Filipinos being garroted and having their heads 

chopped off and being lined up as prisoners by American 

soldiers. He had this book of snapshots, and presumably he 



had taken them himself. He remained in the navy until I 
guess I was about ten or twelve. Then he got out and 
with my father's help (I'm going on like this in no special 
order) he became a businessman — and at the same time, a con- 
firmed alcoholic. And the alcoholism gradually took over 
from the businessman, and he died of alcoholism. 
GARDNER: Could you fill in some of the names? 
MALTZ: Yes, I'll fill in names. 
GARDNER: My historian's bent. 

MALTZ: Of course. I'm just going along. My father's name 
was Maltz — it had always been that. 
GARDNER: First name? 

MALTZ: Bernard. My mother's name was Lena, and her family name 
had been Sherashevsky but it was changed to Sherry, apparently 
when they landed on Ellis Island — that kind of deal. One 
sister was Sadie, and another who was the teacher and who 
taught all her life in the Brooklyn school system and appar- 
ently was quite good at it, was Bertha. Then there was . . . 
I think I'm leaving out a sister somewhere along here. Wait 
a minute. 

GARDNER: Well, you mentioned the retarded one. 
MALTZ: Then there was May, who was the retarded one, slightly 
retarded. And the man who became the sailor was David. And 
perhaps we'd pause for a moment while I just think, [tape 
recorder turned off] There was another daughter whose name 



was Ada. She married a man who ran a little penny grocery, 

a little penny-candy store on a corner in a section of 

Brooklyn, where he used to get up at about four in the 

morning in order to receive the newspapers and be ready to 

sell them to the people who had to start work by 5:30, leave 

for work by 5:30. He would be up until about eleven at night 

for the late customers who came in to buy some candy or 

other little things that those little general stores had. 

And he died at about forty of a coronary — probably some 

of it having to do with the intensity of his work to try 

to earn a living. My mother (and this was very important 

in my life) wanted very much to be a teacher. But [at] about 

the age of thirteen or fourteen, she had to go to work in 

a factory (I believe it was a factory that made buttons 

or buttonholes in garments) to help out. She was the oldest 

of the sisters, the oldest of the children. And there she 

contracted trachoma, which was, as you know, a much more 

prevalent disease at that time and which Ellis Island tried 

to keep out but couldn't altogether, and this affected her 

her whole life. Her vision was saved. I don't know whether 

the first physician who came into her life was the physician 

who was in her life for the rest of it, but somewhere along 

the line she encountered a marvelous German emigre, a tall, 

slender, Prussian-looking gentleman, by the name of Dr. 

Denig . I remember his name; I would like to kind of immortalize 



it as much as I can. Of course, I don't know whether it 

was an operation he invented (I have questioned an ophthalmologist 

about this and he doesn't know), but this would go back now 

fifty, sixty years. He did operations on her eyes whereby 

he took skin from the inside of her mouth and transplanted 

it on the cornea--what is the white part of the eye? 

GARDNER: I can add and subtract, but I don't know. 

MALTZ : Well, we'll have to get that word. Yes, it's not 

the pupil, it would be the cornea. And [he] must have done 

other things. She had a succession of such surgeries, and as 

a result of this, she was able to see and to function, but 

she couldn't read. The most she could ever do was to very 

briefly glance at the headlines of a paper. And out of that, 

and because she was not an educated woman, because reading 

was a strain for her, she got the concept that reading was 

a strain for everybody. As a result, she would say to me, 

"I don't want you reading this Tom Swift stuff and things 

like this. I want you to save your eyes until you go to 

college." Even at that early time when they didn't know 

whether they would have the money for any of their children 

to go to college, there was the hope that they would. And 

so I was forbidden, for instance, to have a library card at 

any time in my life. And there were no books in the house, 

except there were a few sets that they obviously had bought 

because it was the thing to do; they bought a set of 



Turgenev and a set of Tolstoy and a couple of other things 

like this. A set, I remember, of a book on the History 

of the Jews by Graetz, which, when I had the opportunity, I 

would sneak little readings. And that was the extent of the 

reading I did. As a result, I read, when I was an adolescent, 

Tolstoy--! think it was The Kreutzer Sonata — saying what 

a bad thing sexual intercourse was, and I read Graetz on how 

many millions of Jews had been killed by anti-Semites all 

down the ages. And that was about the extent of my rounded 

reading . 

Now, before I was born, which was in October 1908, my 
father had an up-and-down career supporting the family. I 
was the youngest of three; I have two older brothers. 
GARDNER: They are. . . ? 

MALTZ : My oldest is Edward, who is about seven years older 
than I. And the middle brother is Ernest; he is about three 
and a half years older than I . At a certain point I think 
there was a depression in the United States around 1906, and 
I know that he tried to make a go as a farmer. They moved 
out to Freehold, New Jersey, which was a farming community, 
and there they worked very hard to try to raise potatoes 
and strawberries, and there are various tales from that 
year that I wouldn't particularly go into, but that failed 
also. And about the time it failed, he came back and went 
to work again as a painter, and fairly quickly he apparently 
was able to be not just a painter working for someone else 



but a small contractor with another man or two working for 
him. And he would get little contracting jobs. That has 
a relevance in that about the time that this was so, my 
mother was pregnant with me, and there was one night, Sunday 
night, apparently — I just learned this the other night from 
my brother; I knew of it in general, but he refreshed me — 
when my father and the man who worked with him went down to 
the paint shop, which was very near where we lived. We 
lived at that time in Williamsburg, [Brooklyn] , on a street 
that I wrote down called Vernon Avenue, in Williamsburg. 
And when they went into the shop, my father apparently 
went into the back, and the assistant lit a match above an 
open barrel of turpentine. There was an explosion and he 
was set on fire, and my father was set on fire. They both 
ran out, and my father, whether by intelligence or by accident, 
fell on the ground, and in rolling around, he put out the 
fire. But the other man became a torch and burned to death. 
That sent my mother to the hospital for premature delivery, 
and I was born weighing three-and-a-half pounds. There 
wasn't any incubator around apparently at that time, or one 
available — they had them — and so, according to the stories 
I 've been told, I was kept wrapped in cotton wool for about 
six months. 

GARDNER: That's a fiery omen though. 
MALTZ: Ilaughter] Yes. 



GARDNER: Almost mythic. 

MALTZ: And apparently my father, who was then ill and under 
the care of some kindly, non-Jewish doctor, and who recovered, 
somehow so impressed this doctor that he, my father, must 
have been brash enough to ask, or got hints that the man felt 
kindly disposed toward him, and borrowed $1,000. And with 
that money [he] was able to set up in business again and to 
proceed. A little later we moved to another area which was 
apparently Park Avenue, which I remember because my father 
had a shop, paint shop, downstairs where he just stored his 
paints and, I think, also kept his horse. I think at that 
time he still had a horse to navigate around, although he 
was one of the first men around to purchase an automobile 
and had one very early. But I remember living upstairs, up 
a long, long flight of stairs, and looking down. I can 
remember that as an early memory; it must have been sometime 
between the time I was two and three. And apparently this 
was a mixed neighborhood of Irish and Jews at that time. 
But then, when I was three, and when my father was still a 
painter but by that time had graduated to an automobile (be- 
cause I remember driving) , he purchased a house in the 
Flatbush neighborhood. It was about, oh, I can best describe 
it [as] about a mile from Ebbets Field, old Ebbets Field. 
Because Ebbets Field, and all that it meant, dominated a good 
deal of my psychology as a youth. I hoped to become a big- 



10 



league ball player. And the very day that we moved in, some- 
thing happened that I think probably affected me very profoundly, 

A group of boys gathered in our backyard. It was on a 
street which was what you would probably call pleasant, lower- 
middle class, mostly frame houses of two stories with an attic, 
all of them having a little patch of grass in front of them, 
a little patch behind, a little driveway, and all close to- 
gether. There were some brownstones on that street, but mostly 
they were the type I described, with maple trees. But that, 
of course, was a big step up from a Williamsburg slum. And 
when I asked my brother why [our] father moved there, he 
said he knew of no reason excepting that he [the father] wanted 
to make improvements for his family. He wanted them to live 
better, and this was an opportunity to live better. But there 
gathered a group of boys, and my brother thinks they were 
not boys from the street but boys from other streets around, 
shouting anti-Semitic slogans and throwing some stones — 
because I remember the stones broke our back window and cut 
my lip. And since it's an incident that happened when I was 
three and I 've never forgotten (not that I have dwelled upon 
it, but it's just something I've never forgotten), it's quite 
obvious to me that it made me sensitive to anti-Semitism, 
first of all, but I would say, more importantly than that, 
sensitive to the whole question of injustice. It was my 
first experience of something that was not just. And very 



11 



early in life, I can remember very early I hated injustice 
wherever I saw it, to whomever it applied, and I think it came 
out of that personal incident. 

GARDNER: Having brought that up, what. . . . Well, I'm trying 
to figure out how to phrase this. How much Jewishness was 
involved in your family upbringing? For example, did your 
family speak English exclusively, or lots of Yiddish, or. . . ? 
MALTZ : No, it's a good question, important question. There 
was certainly a basic foundation of Jewishness in my up- 
bringing in the sense that we knew we were Jewish, first of 
all; and second of all, we knew we were Jewish in a Christian 
neighborhood. Although later all of the boys in the neighbor- 
hood became my friends: I played with them; I went to school 
with them; they were at my home for my birthday; I was at 
their home for their birthday parties, so that there was not 
an unpleasant atmosphere at all in any sense. My family 
kept a kosher home, but they did so only because first my 
father's mother lived with us. And then afterwards she died, 
and then my mother's mother came to live with us when her 
own daughters had married and were away. She lived with us 
and was a very welcome member of the family; she was such a 
really warm, lovely human being. But if not for that I'm 
sure they would not have kept a kosher house. 

I remember how startled I was when I was about twelve 
or so and went on a little automobile ride through several 



12 



states in New England with my parents. They had taken me 
out of school to do it for some reason or other, and I saw 
my mother order bacon in the morning, and I was just absolutely 
flabbergasted. She said, "Well, when we're out of the house 
we do it, it tastes so good." And on the other hand, I also 
on all high holidays went to synagogue, and this continued 
until I revolted at about the time I went to college, or 
even before, [phone rings] And we celebrated Jewish festivals 
like Passover and so on, and as a matter of fact, at a cer- 
tain point my father urged that I. ... Oh, I had to go to 
Sunday school for a while. I think it was Sunday school 
where you learned actually history; that's what they taught. 
It was taught in English. At a later point I remember my 
father wished that I might read Yiddish, but I was impatient. 
After school I wanted to be out playing with the boys; I 
didn't want any of that muck. And now of course I'm sorry; 
I wish I knew the language. Now, father, for instance, took 
one English paper and one Yiddish paper. I think he took 
the English paper for the news and the Yiddish paper because 
they ran certain serials. 

GARDNER: Which paper was it, do you remember? 
MALTZ: I remember what it was; it was called the Day . It 
was neither the Communist nor the Socialist one; it was, I 
guess, a daily middle-class [paper] or whatever it was, 
but I believe that they ran short stories and things like that. 



13 



and he enjoyed reading them. But he took the English news- 
paper for the news. Somewhere along the line, without 
schooling he'd learned how to read and write. Or maybe he 
had had some night schooling. I don't know. But he was a 
man who always spoke with an accent even though he had come 
[to America] at fourteen. It was not a gross accent, but 
you knew that he was not American-born. With my mother, as 
I recall, there was no such accent. She spoke as though she 
had been born in the United States. It was not, let's say, 
a heavy religious atmosphere. Even my grandmother, who was 
religious, was never tyrannical about it. She was such a 
gentle human being, and she was so tolerant that the weight 
of this never pressed on any of us very much. And I know 
my desire, which was classical, was to be as American as 
possible. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted the approval 
of my peers, naturally. 

There was something else, however, in the early psychology 
which was important, and it was part of the awareness of 
anti-Semitism. I remember my father's attitude was that a 
Jew must learn to fight. Very interesting; it was the 
opposite of meekness. He had been the witness to a pogrom 
in the village in which he lived, a village that was obliterated 
during World War I. And he told stories of how a powerful 
man, the butcher — I think he was the butcher; maybe he was 
the blacksmith--came out with a club in which he had studded 



14 



nails and swung that club around, hitting the local anti- 
Semitic citizenry who were looting and pillaging and so on. 
And my father said, "You've got to fight." I remember his 
telling with absolute delight, and repeating it more than 
once, the story of an old Jew who had a pushcart on the 
East Side and whose beard was pulled by a hulking anti- 
Semite. A small man next to him said, "Don't you ever do 
that again," and this guy turned around on him and started 
to hit him, and the small man turned out to be a Jewish 
boxer. He beat the daylights out of the big man, and my 
father told that with great relish. Now, that affected my 
psychology because, although I was not brought up in an 
atmosphere such as others were, where there were real gangs 
around and where one lived a life of fists, I was prepared 
to fight and I did fight. Not only that, but as I grew 
older I wanted boxing lessons, and I got them from a pro. 
Now, this obviously came to the point of neurosis, because 
when I was at Columbia University in my freshman year, I 
was continuing to take lessons from a pro, and I was prepar- 
ing to enter the Golden Gloves. Now, this is of course too 
contradictory; by that time I should have been over it. But 
nevertheless I had that in me as part of my psychology: you 
don't lay down, you fight--maybe you lose, but you fight. 

Apparently my early years, as I recall them, were 
years of tremendous physical activity. I was fortunate in 



15 



that I lived on a straight street without too much traffic 
and where there were other children my age. So that before 
we went to school, or then after we went to school, when we 
came back, and weekends were spent in incessant physical 
activity. My friends for the most part weren't readers, 
although they did some of it. I , as I ' ve told you, didn't 
have the opportunity; but I didn't miss it, because I was 
glad to get up in the morning and, whatever the season, there 
might be two or three hours of punchball. If you know that 
game, it's generally not known out West here. 
GARDNER: I grew up in New York. 

MALTZ: Oh, you grew up in New York. Then another season 
there would be touch football, and it would be ring-a-levio, 
if you know that game--chasing everybody around like hare and 
hounds — and then it would be roller skates. And when one 
roller skate ran off, broke up, you went on one roller skate 
and used the other foot. And then after a while most people 
were able to afford bikes, and I'll always remember my sad- 
ness that I was the last boy among my group who was able to 
afford a bike. I was riding bikes for hours. And there 
was playing handball. Life was physical, and that was what 
you wanted all the time. That was my existence. There was 
really certainly never any intellectual talk around my family 
because they didn't have it within them. Excepting that 
there was native intelligence there; there could be thoughts 



16 



about things. I remember my father, for instance, was 
very proud to be an American. This was genuinely the 
land of opportunity to him, and he was so very proud of it. 
This came in later, because at a time when he was very ill 
in a hospital, and I was taking state examinations which 
were obligatory for all high school graduates and suddenly 
was confronted with an essay to write, it clicked with my 
father lying ill in a hospital (I'll explain later, he was 
having his legs amputated) : I wrote about my father and 
what he felt about America, which I felt, having embodied it 
from him. 

But at the same time that there was this kind of life, 
there was also apparently a preparation in me of what I guess 
analysts call "free-floating anxiety." Without attempting 
to assess what this came out of, I think it came out of 
parents who demanded, who gave approval when you excelled, 
who gave approval when you achieved, who didn't give approval 
unless you performed according to their expectations. That 
would be my general judgment. I know that very early I had 
the concept that I needed to try to excel in anything I did, 
whether this was in athletics or whether it was when I first 
went to school. That was part of it. But I also recall 
that when I first went to school — I never had kindergarten; 
other children did. I don't know whether my parents were 
just ignorant of it or what. At that time there weren't 



17 



private kindergartens; maybe there were for wealthy people, 
but there was nothing like that in my aura, my ambience. 
But when I went to school, for about the first year as I 
can recall, I ran all the way to school in the morning in 
order to be on time. I don't suppose the school was more 
than about a half a mile away, but that after all wasn't 
necessary and was a sign, I think, of already there, at the 
age of six I guess I was, of that kind of built-in anxiety. 
I do think that several things not unimportant in my back- 
ground were the fact that there was an extended family. When 
we had Passover it was held at our home, and the aunts and 
their husbands all came. And then as they had children, 
all came, and I had a sense of having family and of being 
cherished by more than just my immediate parents, but [also] 
by this aunt and that uncle and so on down the line. And 
I think that had an effect upon me. 

Now, somewhere along in my childhood and before 1918, 
which would have made me ten years old, probably when I was 
maybe only about five, my father branched out from being a 
house painter to becoming a small builder. And he would 
build--! guess he started with one-family houses, but presently, 
I know by World War I he had several apartment houses, and 
that's when he began to go nuts. Because in World War I coal 
was in short supply; as a result, water pipes froze, tenants 
called up, you couldn't get money for more building. And I 



18 



remember I grew up — oh yes, this is very important: although 
later my father made money, my psychology never went along 
with what happened to it. I grew up with the feeling of 
poverty. Now, my wife Esther really grew up in poverty. 
She grew up in that kind of poverty that I never knew where 
she knew that if she would say, "No, I've had enough, mother," 
then her mother would eat one piece of bread, say, or half 
an egg. And if she didn't say that, while being hungry 
herself, her mother wouldn't eat anything. Well, I never had 
that. But I grew up knowing that the kids around the block 
had water pistols that cost ten cents, or maybe they were 
even a quarter at that time. Remember what a water pistol 
was? I wanted a water pistol. My mother said, "We haven't 
got money for a water pistol. You can't have a water pistol." 
And I grew up with the psychology that we were poor. It was 
not so much poor; rather, the more accurate phrase was "money 
is tight." Money was tight. It was always tight. That 
went on for years like that, that money was tight, and that 
affected my psychology a great deal. 

Now, at this point — oh yes, one thing that came into the 
house moderately early, perhaps. ... I don't know, it must 
have been perhaps — no, I guess it was after the war, because 
during the war my father wouldn't have the money, but he bought 
a Victrola. And with it were perhaps a half a dozen records. 
Now, at that time you wound up each time you played one record. 



19 



and these were all great arias: [Amelita] Galli-Curci singing 
from — I forget what it's named; it's about the fisherman-- 
and Caruso singing his Pagliacci , and so on. Something in 
me instantly responded to that music. I used to play that 
hour after hour after hour. Although later, when my parents 
tried to give me music lessons, I hated every minute of it, 
quit it as soon as possible. But I loved to listen to that 
music. Now I don't enjoy opera because I can't stand the 
recitative that goes on in between, but great arias as well 
as, of course, all orchestral and chamber music and so on, 
are things I love. And actually, I work to music. 
GARDNER: Oh, is that so? 

MALTZ : Yes. I didn't always used to, but I learned about 
working to music, oh, it goes back now about eight, ten 
years ago. Almost all day long I have music on. Usually 
it's baroque music, gentle music. It's not usually orchestral, 
although sometimes it may be. And it's never voice, never 
voice, because that interferes. But I find it benign, and 
for that reason I'm delighted with KUSC. 



20 



TAPE NUMBER: I, SIDE TWO 
FEBRUARY 13, 19 75 

GARDNER: Now you were talking about your musical. . . . 
MALTZ : Well, just talking about the music, but that's 
all it meant. We never had any collection of records or 
anything like that. But as frequently with families of 
that sort, at a given age my oldest brother was given piano 
lessons, and then the next brother was given violin lessons. 
Now, each of them had some interest in music and did some 
practicing and learned how to play a bit. But I^ never 
liked it when my turn came. 
GARDNER: What instrument were you doing? 

MALTZ: A violin, and I did it only out of dutifulness. And 
at rather an early age for me, because I was "a good boy," 
I said, "I don't want it. I don't like it. I don't want to 
do it." And it went side by side with the fact that at 
certain evenings the son of a tailor--there was a man who 
had a tailor shop in the area, his son was rather a good 
violinist--and on a Friday night, when the music teacher 
came to teach my second oldest brother, Ernest, he and the 
music teacher and the son of the tailor would come and play 
music at the house. I always enjoyed that very much. At a 
certain age along the way, when things were a little easier, 
we went to an occasional concert, especially one that was 
recommended by the music teacher, who said a friend of his 



21 



was having a debut at Carnegie Hall or something like that. 
But we never had any record collection or anything like 
that. And as a matter of fact, when I went to college I had 
just a little box that you carried; you put on one record 
at a time and wound it up one at a time. And I had half a 
dozen Bach records — I was very fond of Bach at that time-- 
and that was all that I ever had. It was a cultural educa- 
tion [that] was sort of very spotty. My parents did go to 
the Yiddish theater, but I didn't know Yiddish. I knew at 
that time some pidgin Yiddish because my grandmother knew 
practically no English — she could understand a few words, 
but she only spoke Yiddish — and I could get along with her 
but have lost all of that really because I was twice married 
to women who were not Jewish. Now that I am married to a 
woman who is Jewish and who knows Yiddish, I'm beginning to 
relearn some words that I knew as a child. And I have recently 
been reading, with fascination, Leo Rosten's extraordinary 
book about "the joys of Yiddish." I think that's an absolutely 
magical book. I have known him in the past, not well, but 
I never realized what a truly erudite and brilliantly witty 
man he was . 

Oh, that reminds me of something which is really 
absolutely precious. I thought I had it down, and, you 
see, I think I look over too quickly — no, I see I have it here. 
When I was a resident here in I guess my mid-thirties, over 



22 



at the house as a guest one evening was Ralph Greenson, the 

psychoanalyst, called Romy by friends. And I don't know 

what prompted it, but I related a story that when I first 

went to Europe, and went to the board of health in Brooklyn 

for my birth certificate, there was none for me. There was 

one that gave my birthdate and the names of my parents 

and the correct address--but the first name was Romeo Maltz. 

And instantly Romy Greenson said, "My father delivered you." 

He said his father was a general practitioner and a nut on 

Shakespeare, and every child he delivered he wrote down a 

Shakespearean first name for them, [laughter] So I had to 

officially have a name change, and I still have a copy of 

that original Romeo Maltz birth certificate. Isn't that a 

fantastic coincidence? 

GARDNER: That's wonderful. 

MALTZ: Well. . . . 

GARDNER: We won't discuss the obvious ways in which that 

might have influenced you. 

MALTZ: Well, it didn't very much, unfortunately, [laughter] 

More fantasy I think than anything else. Anyway, I didn't 

discover it until I was already in college, you see, because 

I never went to Europe before then. 

GARDNER: At this time we're talking really about when you 

would have been in grammar school. 

MALTZ: Well, we're talking about the time I started grammar 



23 



school. I started grammar school at the conventional age 

of about six. 

GARDNER: Would there have been any added influences due to 

the fact that your brothers — your older brother now would 

be in junior high school? 

MALTZ: They didn't have junior high schools then. 

GARDNER: Well, then--oh, I see, he would be around eighth 

or ninth grade then. 

MALTZ: They were both older and their lives, although we 

were part of the same family, were rather separate from mine. 

They were both older. They had things in common that I didn't. 

Their friends on the block were an older group; I played with 

a younger group. And it was not like growing up with a brother 

who is, let's say, just a year older than you. One was about 

six years older, six and a half, the other three and a half 

to four. And I was the kid brother. (If you can believe on 

the telephone my middle brother still says, "Hey, kid." You 

know, that was the atmosphere.) 

When I began in school, I was a dutiful student. I must 
say, for the schooling that we had--we had a school in which 
the classes were so crowded at one point that I remember that 
for a period of about two years another boy and I shared one 
desk, which meant that each of us sat on one buttock for the 
entire day. But by gosh, we learned geography, we learned 
certain basic elements of history — probably some of them 



24 



gravely inaccurate, but we learned them. But the geography 
was accurate, and I mention that because you know I had oc- 
casion not too long ago to be at the home of a physician 
and his intelligent wife and his intelligent son. This in- 
telligent son goes to Beverly Hills High School, and I said, 

"Did you ever have a class in geography?" He said no. I 
said, "Do you know where Istanbul is?" He said no. I said, 
"Do you know where Rio de Janeiro is?" He said no. He 
doesn't know the world in which he lives! 
GARDNER: That's incredible. 

MALTZ : But I have since heard that this is largely true of 
almost all people entering colleges; they have absolutely no 
knowledge of geography. There are some schools that apparently 
combine geography with aspects of sociology so that people 
do get a sense of places. But I know that I still can re- 
call, you know, that Peru produces a certain kind of basic 
crop and basically where it is in Latin America. We had to 
make maps. And I feel that in many respects I was infinitely 
better educated than a great many who are going to school 
today. Although when I was living in Mexico City, some 
young friends of mine who were going to what was called the 
American School there, which had combined American and Mexi- 
can students and which taught some classes in Spanish, every- 
one was bilingual. They were already reading things in 
literature that I was not assigned until I came into college. 



25 



The literature was much more advanced, and I believe that 
the literature that is read even today in, say, good high 
schools in the United States is much more advanced. Just 
as I was told, I remember, when I was in England in 1959, 
Galsworthy is really only read by high school boys or 
whatever they called them at that time . . . high school 
boys--probably schoolboys. This was shortly before they 
had a radio program a few years later in which Galsworthy's 
Forsyte Saga was so successful, and then they had a TV thing. 
And now I think Galsworthy, whom I consider one of the 
great modern masters, finally came into his own again. But 
in so many respects it seems to me that I was given a better 
foundation in education than many young people are getting 
today in school. I know that as one of my first obligatory 
English classes in college — and there were only two and I 
only took two--I had to do composition, one composition a 
week, to learn how to write. And apparently this is one of 
the gravest problems today, that so many students can't 
write anything. They cannot put sentences together. I 
suppose it's one of the results of TV, but also it must have 
something to do with the way writing is taught in school. 
A most unfortunate development. Anyway, I went to school. . . 
GARDNER: What was the school, by the way, just to have. . . ? 
MALTZ: Oh, it was a little school in Brooklyn called PS 92. 
And when I had occasion to visit in Brooklyn in the year '59, 



26 



PS 92 was still there but had been rebuilt and was carrying 
on. And that school had a very mixed population; it was 
for the most part, oh, I'd say very mixed. One type that 
rather stood out were some very poor Italians who lived in 
a kind of a Hooverville about a mile away from the school, 
but who came very neatly dressed to elementary school. 
Although I once wrote a story based upon the fact that one 
Saturday morning I saw one of the girls in my class walking 
barefoot, following her father with a pushcart, walking 
through our street, looking through rubbish barrels. But 
when they came to school they were neat, [sound interference-- 
tape recorder turned off] Otherwise I think practically all 
the children were lower middle class or poor". I remember 
once a year, or twice a year, there would be examinations 
for head lice. And at that time, if you had head lice you 
had to leave the school; your hair was shorn; the only treat- 
ment they had for it was kerosene, that I can recall. I 
remember the bitter tears on the part of one young girl 
when she had to leave school. Classes were orderly. There 
was no cutting up. When you think of what happens nowadays 
in what we read of schools, there was none of that in our 
area. Of course, in other areas of New York I'm sure that 
things were different. This was basically a lower-middle-class 
to poor area where I think all parents wanted their children 
to get an education. 



27 



GARDNER: I think for the most part in those days education 
was revered to the extent that. ... . • 
MALTZ : Revered a great deal. All I know is, for instance, 
in Harlem kids were getting an education; they were getting 
some sort of an education, because when I was a member of 
a theater group in the mid-thirties and we put on a play in 
which almost all of the actors were black actors, they all 
knew how to read and write damn well. And there were 
people of literacy. So there have been massive sea changes 
in a city like New York since I grew up there. I do know 
that when Halloween came we all had the custom of changing, 
taking our jackets and putting them on inside out, because 
on that day you could put flour in a long black stocking and 
hit other kids in the back. But we were always afraid of the 
Italian children because they put stones and broken glass 
in their stockings. They were a tougher element--poorer 
and tougher. I'm sure today they are magistrates and so on. 
And out of our area, different from other areas of Brooklyn, 
such as one of my dearest friends who grew up in, I think, 
basically the Williamsburg area, a great many of his young 
friends ended up in Sing Sing and in the electric chair, or 
as gangsters. 

GARDNER: The old Murder Incorporated. 

MALTZ: Yes. But that didn't happen in my area, to anyone 
I knew. One,. I remember, went on to become a teacher; the 



28 



second one, poor fellow, became a paraplegic in World War II; 
the third one, I never knew what happened to him educationally, 
but his father was a minor executive of Standard Oil Company; 
another one was an accountant. And so on. It's a different 
kind of atmosphere. 

By the time World War I ended — oh, I must say that World 
War I had a great effect upon me because I learned how to 
read, let's say, in about the first year of elementary 
school, I would think. I would then read the newspapers, so 
that I was very well aware at that time of things like the 
Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme--90 , 000 men 
dead in one day and 40,000 prisoners — and poison gas and 
tanks. I was around, like other children, selling bonds, 
selling war bonds to neighbors, and collecting scrap and 
doing other such things. And [I was] also very well aware 
that a couple of my uncles were in the army and going to 
Camp Upton, which was in New Jersey. [I remember] watching 
a parade once of soldiers. This had an important effect 
on me, because after World War I, by the time I was in 
high school, there was the reaction to the fact that World 
War I was an imperialist war fought to divide up territories 
and gain markets, and there was a great deal of debunking 
of the war. The very first political position that I ever 
took in my life occurred in high school when I developed a 
pacifist attitude toward war, and that was very important. 



29 



The horror of World War I was borne in upon me very, very 
deeply. But certainly during elementary school I was just 
a patriotic American boy who believed all of the stories of 
German atrocities, some of which were true and some were not. 
I didn't know of anything else that was occurring, such as 
the fact that the French were not shelling certain German 
factories in which they had financial interests, and that 
kind of thing. And I do remember one very important thing: 
when Allenby, General Allenby--when the Balfour Declaration 
was declared, there was great excitement in my family. I 
remember that we went to synagogue, and I remember that 
everybody around was excited because something new was going 
to happen for the Jewish people. 

I don't know about growing up in New York City now, 
or many other cities, but it seems to me that there was much 
more sensitivity to anti-Semitism in the United States at 
that time than there is now, purely because there was more 
active anti-Semitism. I always remembered that when I went 
to camp one of my counselors had been a Princeton quarter- 
back who had studied engineering, and the great question was, 
in spite of the fact that he was Princeton and a quarterback 
and All-American, whether he would get a job as an engineer 
because the engineering profession seemed to be closed to 
Jews. And the kind of awareness that I think I had of anti- 
Semitism all through childhood, even though, as I say, most 



30 



of my friends for the most part were non-Jewish, I just don't 
have now. I very definitely lost it when I went to live in 
Mexico, where I never felt anything like that at all. But 
I think that the world changed in that respect and, God knows, 
can change again, depending upon world events. I seem to 
remember very earnest teachers in elementary school, teachers 
who really tried to give us our basic tools of learning. And 
I remember something most fascinating which is very different 
today, which is that in my last year of elementary school, 
which meant I was thirteen going on fourteen, the question 
was put: How many children are going to high school? (Because 
at that time, as I recall, there was no sixteen-year-old limit; 
you could immediately go to work from elementary school. In 
fact, I don't think you even had to finish elementary school.) 
And with satisfaction our teacher saw about half the chil- 
dren in the class say they were going on to high school. I 
remember later, when I graduated from high school, there was 
the question, "How many are going on to college?" and there 
was a small minority of hands that said they were going on 
to college — but only a small minority. The situation now, 
where such a vast portion of young people go on to one 
type of college or another, is a day-to-night difference 
from what it was when I was a child. There was a very small 
minority of us who ever went to college. 

Now, something very important in my life, which I didn't 
realize at that time was important, occurred when I was about 



31 



nine, I think. I was in a grade such as 2B, something like 
that, 2B or 3B. I got a very severe pneiomonia and was out 
of school for about three months. Apparently behind the 
pneumonia there was a hidden polio that was not recognized, 
and was not recognized, I would say, for about fifty years. 
Because, although it turned out (some time ago I found out) 
that my left foot is half an inch less wide than my right 
and that the arches of each foot are different from the other, 
my gait was never affected, or at least I compensated in 
such a way that it was never affected. No doctor ever 
saw it. Army doctors never saw it; no athletic director 
ever saw it. And I assumed that when someone played two or 
three sets of tennis, his feet ached. And I assumed that 
when someone stood in a museum for an hour, his feet ached. 
I didn't know that other people didn't. All I knew is that 
I could never be an elevator man, let's say, or work behind 
a counter in a store. Of course, I knew my feet couldn't 
take it, and along the line I did various things to try and 
compensate for my problem. For instance, by the time I was 
in my thirties and able to afford it, I used to buy two sets 
of shoes each time I bought a pair of shoes--one size six, 
and the other six and a half — and I'd throw away one of each, 
and that way have one. Or else I would buy a pair of shoes, 
and I would take a stretcher and work on the right one and 
work on the right one until sometimes I almost burst the seams 



32 



in order to make that one large enough so that the left 
one would work. And actually it was not until I was living 
in Mexico and once happened to mention this to an internist 
that he sent me to a bright orthopedist. And I said, "You 
know, I've always had great trouble with my shoes, and I've 
tried to have shoes made in Mexico because I heard that 
Mexican craftsmen were very good. But I've had no success, 
and I think that I just have unequally sized feet because I 
had a badly sprained ankle in baseball once." He said, "That 
wouldn't have any relationship to your problem." He said, 
"You've either had a hidden polio at one time in your life, 
or else you had a very rare form of meningitis which would 
cause this." So, for the first time in my life, when I was 
already, I believe, in my fifties, I had a thorough examina- 
tion, and he found that my entire left side was weaker than 
my right, that my left thigh and calf were smaller than my 
right thigh and calf, but never so noticeable that even 
stripped in gym anybody knew. And you know, I made the 
tennis team in college, and I made records in swimming, and 
that kind of thing, and I didn't notice. But that's why I 
wear these shoes nowadays, which are built to a mold and 
help me out. But I had this hidden polio as a kid and never 
knew about it. 

GARDNER: That's fascinating. And never knew about it. 
MALTZ: Never knew about it; nobody knew it at that time. 



33 



I was reminded of that fact because in 1917, which means 
when I was nine, in the summer there was a great polio epi- 
demic in the United States, and as many parents as could 
afford it got their children out of town. Now my second 
[brother] , Ernest, the middle brother, had had asthma as a 
child, and so my parents scrounged up the money to get him 
to go to camp because that was thought to be good for him. 
But neither my oldest brother nor I went away that summer. 
But when the epidemic came along, my parents packed us into 
their little auto, and we went up to that camp and stayed 
there until school reopened, as it did about a month late. 
I don't think school reopened until about mid-October or late 
October in the year 1917. And that was the first summer, I 
think, I maybe had spent out of town. I think, on the con- 
trary, there probably were little vacations of about two 
weeks in the year, or one week in the year, when my mother 
would be able to go up with us children to some summer place 
in the Catskills and have a cheap room for vacation. My 
father might join her on the weekend. 

But thereafter my father's fortunes went better as 
American capitalism went better. After World War I there 
was rather a building boom. I remember there was another 
little bust around 1922, but there was a building boom and 
a good deal of speculation in real estate, of which my 
father took advantage, and he was apparently an extremely 



34 



adept man in sizing up the value of real estate. I know 
he would come in and say, "I bought a lot today for 
$8,000." And a week later he would say, "I sold it for 
$11,000." And then later it might be twenty [thousand 
dollars], and then it might be thirty. So he made some 
money there, and he made enough money to begin building on 
a larger scale. He was a man with a good deal of enterprise. 
There was a section of Brooklyn called Parkway Gardens that 
was once merely a horse ranch. And it was he who bought 
the ranch, and he built about twenty-five one-family houses, 
and thereafter, others built more--he built more. All of 
Astoria [Queens] was nothing until he built about the first 
fifty houses or something. And Varick Street in New York, 
which is now a basic area of industrial buildings, was all 
brownstone buildings; he built the first industrial building 
on Varick Street. So he was obviously a man with a considerable 
amount of vision. As he went along he acquired a good deal 
of property, a considerable amount of money, and then, for- 
tunately, smelled the Depression of 19 29 coming. And unlike 
many another man who had kept building new properties and 
then financing the way they were going by getting a mort- 
gage to buy another one, and paying off the last one with 
the new mortgage, but never really having enough cash, and 
when cash was called for during the Depression, they went 
broke, my father smelled the situation and sold out half 



35 



of his holdings for cash to partners and was able to 
weather the Depression in good fashion. That was a very 
fortunate thing for him--and for us as well. 

Now, I could go into high school. I've made no notes 
on it. High school has a few important things. 

GARDNER: Well, we could just begin. I have about ten minutes 
more tape. 

MALTZ : Well, if you have about ten minutes more tape, let 
me give you a little. . . 

GARDNER: Well, let me ask a question or two. 
MALTZ: Sure. 

GARDNER: At this point, since you're entering high school, 
your brother, your eldest [brother] , would have already been 
of college age. Did he in fact go on to college? 
MALTZ: No, my oldest brother did not. He was just old 
enough to be drafted in 1917, and he was going to be drafted, 
I think, and then the war ended. At that time my father's 
business was very bad, and the question was what to do with 
him. And at that time textiles began to boom, so my father 
said, "Aha! Textiles," and he went to a textile industrial 
school in Philadelphia. 

GARDNER: It's still there, Philadelphia Textile. 
MALTZ: Is it? 
GARDNER: Yeah. 
MALTZ: He learned all about textiles, which he hated, and 



36 



in the summer he worked in a textile factory, which he ab- 
horred. And by the time the war was over, by the time that 
period was over, textiles took a drop and he never went back 
into textiles. My second brother never finished high school. 
He was not very good at studies, although he's a very in- 
telligent man. He was not good at formal studies, and at 
a given point, he got into an argument with a teacher and 
hit him, and he was kicked out of school. Thereupon he 
went to work with my father and began to learn the building 
business, and he learned a good deal and became a very suc- 
cessful man himself. He happens to be a man who very early 
developed a great passion as a fisherman and also as a hunter, 
and all in him that might have gone into creative study — and 
didn't — went into the creative work of being a real fisher- 
man. For instance, when he goes fishing (and this has gone 
on many years) he never buys lures; he comes along with a 
box of tools and with different types of feathers which he's 
gotten. There may be a camel hair from Tibet, whatever. And 
he goes to a lake, to a stream where other people are fishing 
and not catching anything, and he takes the temperature of 
the water, and he sees what the fish are biting on, and 
he sits down and makes the proper little fly and throws it 
in--and now he starts to catch. As soon as he catches 
them, he counts the number of scales, and then he puts a 
little bind on them and makes a notation and puts the fish 



37 



right back. He works with the fish and game commission in 
order to improve the stock of fish, and works this way. 
His knowledge of fish. ... He was able to prove, for 
instance, that trout could live to a much larger size and 
to a longer age if you didn't take them at a too early age 
from a certain stream in New Jersey, He established a whole 
thing about that. And as a duck hunter, for instance, he 
doesn ' t--like others [do]--say, "Well, let's go hunting 
next Tuesday." He waits until a chief of police in New 
Jersey calls him up and says, "Hey, Ernie, the barometer 
is dropping." He drops whatever he is doing, gets his 
gear, and goes out, because that's when the ducks are going 
to land, and he knows it. [laughter] He comes back with 
some ducks. It's been a very interesting thing, and he's 
been able to spend a good deal of his life, on the one hand, 
managing some buildings and doing some business and, on the 
other hand, fishing and hunting for half of each year. He 
fishes for trout, he goes up to Canada to fish, goes to 
Florida to fish bonefish, never goes out on a boat to 
fish a big fish; it's always the fish that you have to 
catch delicately, gives you a long fight. Occasionally he 
will keep a fish like a salmon to eat, or a bluefish; for 
the most part he catches them and puts them back. And his 
wife is also a superb fisherman. 
GARDNER: Fascinating. 

MALTZ: Yes. Now, in high school. . . . 
GARDNER: High school, now, is really. . . . 
MALTZ: There were no junior high school. 

38 



GARDNER: So it's really from eighth to ninth grade, then, 
isn't it? 

MALTZ : I guess so. I went from the age of six to fourteen, 
and then I had four years of high school. So, what would 
that be — eight grades and four more? 
GARDNER: What high school? 

MALTZ: I went to Erasmus [Hall] High School in New York. 
By the way, the entire district in which I was brought up is 
apparently now either totally or partially black. It's 
very interesting. When I went back in 19 59, I found that 
the street on which I lived was half-populated by black 
people already. And I regret to say that the park in which 
I spent a lot of happy times. Prospect Park, which would be 
so free and easy, and we'd walk on a Friday night (I'd go 
by myself to feed squirrels, which I loved to do) , is now 
so dangerous that one dare not enter it at night and scarcely 
in the daytime. That's a most unhappy development. And I 
think Erasmus Hall High School has now become largely black. 
Erasmus Hall, incidentally, when I went there, had a pre- 
revolutionary building in which some classes were carried 
on, an old wooden building in the center of what was a stone 
high school. 

Erasmus was very good for me too, on the whole--except 
for geometry, which I could never comprehend. I remember 
particularly a small, thin, elderly lady who loved poetry. 



39 



and the way she taught poetry to us was merely to read 
aloud Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth. That was all. I suppose 
she gave us some talks in between, but mostly I remember 
her reading beautifully these poets. I had never read any 
poetry in my life before, and I came to love them. I 
thought they were so beautiful, these poets. And that's 
what a good teacher can accomplish. I remember once walking 
down the street with her on an icy day when we both happened 
to leave the school at the same time. For some reason or 
another as we were going along I kept slipping and falling 
on the ice and falling down. She was asking me, "Are you 
going to college?" When I said, "Yes, I am going to college," 
she just became radiant. There was a devoted teacher, that 
one of her students would go to college. And she had seen 
that I was interested in the poetry, because I remember 
asking her some questions about it. 

GARDNER: At this point, then, you were beginning to read 
some more . 

MALTZ : At this point I still was not allowed to have a library 
card. Oh, I haven't talked about summer camp, which was 
important, because I started in to go to camp in 1919. I 
was still in elementary school, and I went to camp there- 
after every siommer until I finished my sixteenth year. 
GARDNER: Which camp? Where was it? 
MALTZ: I went to several camps. One was in Pennsylvania; 



40 



I think it was called Harlan. And the second was in New 
Hampshire and it was called Norbey. And my interest there 
was all athletics, with one new development that came in, 
which was drama. There was a teacher at the first school, 
at the first camp, who then moved up to the second as well, 
who was a dramatics teacher who loved Shakespeare and put 
on plays. I asked to be in a play, and I evidentally had 
certain abilities as an actor compared to the other kids. 
So after lunch, instead of resting as we usually did since 
all morning it was baseball and then swimming, I would go 
and rehearse for a play. And I was in play after play from 
a fairly early age on. I don't know, I never conceived of 
becoming an actor, but I think it led to an orientation 
of interest in the theater. I believe I started to say 
earlier that I never saw theater particularly. My parents 
went to the Yiddish theater. 
GARDNER: Right. 

MALTZ : And since I didn't know Yiddish, I didn't go along. 
But at a certain point they took me to a couple of plays, 
and I watched them with some amusement because a couple of 
them were burlesque, and they told me a little of the 
sense of it. 

GARDNER: Would that have been in Brooklyn or in Second Avenue? 
MALTZ: It was in New York, Second Avenue I think--yes, surely 
that. But then at a certain point in my life, I remember 



41 



going with my older brother to Broadway, where I saw 
Cyrano de Bergerac with a man who made it his vehicle for 
a long time. (I forget his name. He was very well known 
and very good at it.) And oh, how I loved it, how I wept, 
how enchanted I was! I had the experience that a million 
others have had the world over in finding myself absolutely 
captivated by the theater. And from then on, when I had the 
opportunity I did go to the theater, and that particularly 
developed when I was at college. Then I used to go to the 
theater. But I'm going ahead of myself, because there were 
certain things else that happened in high school that 
were important. 

GARDNER: Well, the camp interests me too because it seems 
to me that that was an avant-garde thing to be doing. 
MALTZ : Oh, I forgot something very important which I must 
take up in my next time — or if you have more time I'll do 
it even tonight. My life was dominated at an early age by 
the fact that my father was ill. My first memory of my 
father was of his fainting. Whatever he had that caused him 
to faint, I saw him fall to the floor in his nightgown, up 
on the second floor where we lived. My room was adjacent 
to my parents'. And during World War I, during bitter 
weather when he had to go out in the cold on tasks, in an 
unheated automobile of course, he developed frostbite. 
Now, I have never known the entire truth about this, but he 



42 



was diagnosed by the end of World War I as having Buerger ' s 
disease. Do you know what that is? VJell actually, there 
was a man called Dr. Buerger who dealt with trench feet on the 
part of American soldiers during the war--trench feet came in 
cold and wet feet--and developed a certain injection to im- 
prove the circulation. My father went to him and was de- 
clared to have Buerger's disease. It was subsequently told 
to me that it was more likely to have been arteriosclerosis 
of the legs, because Buerger's disease was usually a young 
man's disease, and my father was already, I guess, in his 
forties. But whether it was or not, I don't know; it was 
officially declared to be Buerger's disease. And there began 
a long period of problems with his legs. 

Even before that, I became very sensitive, as did both 
my brothers, to the question of health. I remember one year 
when we were going away to camp my father suddenly had an 
embolism--not a stroke in his brain, but an embolism which 
paralyzed him on one side for several days. And he couldn't 
speak at the time. But we were sent away to camp anyway, 
and the embolism dissolved and he recovered. But he had a 
number of those which were already a sign of a circulatory 
problem. Now, he was a chain smoker, or he was a heavy 
smoker of cigarettes. 



43 



TAPE NUMBER: II, SIDE ONE 
FEBRUARY 13, 19 75 

MALTZ : My father had a number of these embolisms. He 
also had stomach trouble which we were aware of. I think 
he probably had high blood pressure, because I grew up to 
learn, when I came in contact with others, that they salted 
their food in a way that I didn't and I still don't. I'll 
get a restaurant dish and I'll say, "I'm sorry, I can't eat 
it; it's too salty for me." And my wife cooks practically 
without salt, and I never add salt. So I imagine that he 
must have had that, although I wasn't told it as such. 

But at about the time of 1918, 1919, he was having great 
trouble with his feet. I know he used to have mustard 
baths at night. And he also, at a given time, bought a 
machine, an electric machine, that was placed in my room. 
He would come into my room perhaps around 6:00 in the morning 
because I had to get up by about 6:30 or 7:00 to go to 
school. As a matter of fact, my first two years in Erasmus 
High School I had to be there at 8:00, and I was through by 
12:30. It was that kind of a split session. And he would 
sit with a blanket over his head, reading the Yiddish news- 
paper, as I recall, and having some electric treatment for 
his legs that was supposed to improve them. Whether or not 
it helped, I don't know. He had had his stomach trouble all 



44 



along. He was a big man, husky, but he put on weight too 
early, at about the age of thirty-five. And at various 
times, as he could afford it he would go away for certain 
periods to Hot Springs, Arkansas, alone or with my mother, 
and that was supposed to be good for him--a lessening of 
tension, I think. But I know that there was a great deal of 
tension between them in their marriage, I think purely on 
a sexual basis. They liked each other, and they really loved 
each other, but there was a very bad sexual adjustment, and 
this caused a great deal of tension. (This I didn't know 
at the time, I found out later.) 

In any instance, there came one day when I was seventeen 
when my father who had for about a year and a half been going 
to Dr. Buerger weekly for injections (no longer could drive 
a car, by the way, he had a chauffeur) came back from 
having had one injection, and whether the substance in the 
injection was not sound or not, it closed off circulation 
in the leg, and there came about three days of my father 
lying in bed, screaming. He was screaming and screaming 
so that you could hear it halfway down the block, the doctors 
coming in consultations. He was finally taken to Mount 
Sinai, where he was put in a room that was padded, and you 
could hear his screams down the hall. He smoked cigarettes 
between amputations, and I mention that because, if indeed 
he had Buerger's disease, there is no known case of Buerger's 



45 



disease that is not caused by cigarette smoking; and there 
is no case of Buerger's disease that has not been arrested 
when the person stopped smoking, and there's no case of 
Buerger's disease that has not advanced if the person con- 
tinued smoking. Of course, there are poor people who have 
continued to smoke, been unable to stop, and first a leg 
has been taken off, and then another leg, and then a hand, 
and then another hand, and they can't stop smoking. So 
whether it was arteriosclerosis or whatever, my father had 
both legs amputated. It was at this point at which I found 
in myself, not consciously, but as I look back on it, a 
certain kind of ability to communicate that my mother didn't 
have with him and my brothers didn't have with him. Because 
I would go in and say to him, "Look, you're still a man," 
because he felt, you know, a terrible depression. "And you 
are the man--your brain and your mind and your heart." 
It was at that time that I was graduating and coming up for 
these college boards, I guess they were, or whatever the 
hell they were. 
GARDNER: Regents. 

MALTZ : Regents, and I wrote this thing I did on my thoughts 
about my father and his illness and his being an American. 
At that time both my oldest brother and myself (my youngest 
was working in the business, carrying on for my father) got 
mononucleosis. But it was before mononucleosis was a recog- 



46 



nized disease, so we were not told to go to bed. I was 
then a freshman in college. My father was six months in 
the hospital at that time because he healed very poorly. 
A young man who goes to war and has a leg shot off, the 
wound heals within a week or two. But with my father, 
because of the bad circulation, it didn't heal; it went 
very badly and very slowly. And so we dragged around, and 
I became so trembly that I had to leave college. We both 
were unwell for months, but we kept trying to go every day 
to the hospital to see him. 

We lived in Brooklyn and Sinai was up at Ninety-ninth 
Street and somewhere or other. . . . That reminds me, I made 
a marvelous friend during that time that he was ill. I used 
to walk the streets sometimes when I wasn't with him, and 
there was a little lady, little black lady, who had a book- 
store. Now I was able to get books and borrow them, and 
she loaned them and sold them very cheaply. Then she took 
an interest in me, and she told me with great pride that her 
son was becoming a biochemist, and he was working as a Pullman 
porter in order to do so. (Well, not a Pullman porter, I 
think just a porter in Grand Central Station.) But I always 
remember that woman because she was very motherly toward me, 
and she liked my interest in books which was newly awakened 
for the first time. 

Ah, but there is one thing about books. When I went 



47 



to high school, somewhere around my junior year, aside from 
doing the homework that I always did, all my free time was 
in sports. I discovered a book written by an English journal- 
ist which was a muckraking job on World War I, and said what 
dirt had gone on during World War I. And I used to take my 
lunch, I guess a sandwich from home, whatever, and instead 
of going to the cafeteria to eat, I bought a little bottle 
of milk, and I would run up to a certain place in the library 
where that book was. I didn't take it to a desk, because 
they had desks there, I'd somehow just take the book out, 
as though I weren't allowed to, and put it on top of the 
bookstand, and eat my lunch and read that book. And a 
powerful effect it had upon me in learning what had gone on 
during World War I; it had a very powerful effect on my 
mind at that time. But I can't remember reading much else 
except the little sneak reading that I did in Tolstoy at a 
wrong time in my life. I remember I owned a copy of Twenty 
Thousand Leagues under the Sea that I kept hidden up on a 
shelf. When my parents went out on a Saturday night, I 
would get the book and I would read for a while, and then 
I would put it up and go to sleep. By the time I went into 
college, I met a lot of young men, particularly a young friend 
that had a lot of influence on me for a while who had read 
all sorts of things, you know, Dickens and all the people 
you could name. I hadn't read anything, nothing at all. 



48 



That was how I started. I wanted to do well in grades be- 
cause that was taken for granted, but my chief aim was to 
make the swimming team and the tennis team. And we can go 
on from there. 

GARDNER: Have you covered all you. . . ? 
MALTZ: High school? 

GARDNER: No, not high school, we can finish up with that. 
Have you said all you wanted about your father's illness and 
its effect on you? 

MALTZ: Well, it was very complicated, really. For a while 
we all had the silly notion that we could somehow hide the 
fact that his legs had been removed, that he could get pros- 
theses--which were then far, far inferior to what they have 
now--and that somehow we would keep it a secret. It was as 
though it was a dirty thing that had happened, and not just 
a sad thing. Now, of course if my mother — her mother had 
been a wiser woman than she evidently was. . . . There would 
have been none of this nonsense. But for a while we tried 
to keep it a secret, and finally it came out. 

We went to the country when he was finally let out of 
the hospital. There was about a four-month period when we 
went up to Monticello, New York, where he got a house, and 
he had a nurse with him. I spent the stammer with him, and 
sometime during that summer he got his first pair of prostheses 
with which he could walk very badly, but he walked. By God, 



49 



that man went on, and he went on in business to do other 
things. He went to Europe, walking on the whole like an 
automaton--calling attention to himself and so on. But 
he had a strong spirit for which I admire him very much. 
I wish that I had been older and been able to understand 
him better, understand my mother better and so on. I have 
the pictures of my grandmother and so on that I can show you 
tonight perhaps — sometime. But I think he was a very enter- 
prising man. I once asked an attorney who had been his 
attorney what sort of a man he was, and he said, "He was one 
of the nicest and most honorable men I've ever met in my life." 
And I don't think it was said out of special partiality; I 
think it was probably so. He seemed quite a good guy, a 
very good guy. Why don't we kind of finish off now, and 
I'll listen back before our next session. 

GARDNER: And we'll come back to high school a little bit 
and on to college. 

[Second Part] (August 5, 1976) 

GARDNER: As we just discussed, we had talked about your 
father, and we're going to come back and discuss your high 
school years at Erasmus . 

MALTZ: Yes. Well, I made some notes and tried to sum up 
what high school was for me and what it did, and I would 
say that its general role was a benign one. It increased my 



50 



capacity for learning, my ability to go at things and study, 
including materials that were not interesting to me, such as 
the two years of Latin I had to take, which I didn't enjoy, 
but I passed the course. And I also had to have a year of 
Spanish. I passed that but it didn't interest me. And the 
high school also helped me learn what is after all perhaps 
the most fundamental thing in learning: the ability to learn 
by myself, which is what they call homework. But they might 
better introduce it to students not by saying, "Now, I'm 
going to give you some homework." Everybody said, "Oh, 
[grumbling sounds]." Instead they should say, "I'm going to 
teach you the most important thing: how you study by yourself 
when you're all finished with school." All of American his- 
tory, which I'm deeply, deeply interested in, I've learned 
since I left college--that kind of thing. And it intro- 
duced me to the richness of poetry, which I mentioned in the 
first tape. And also I recall certain assignments--the read- 
ing of some novels, which was new to me . I remember I read 
A Tale of Two Cities , and we had some Shakespeare, I think, 
and some Emerson essays. Certainly A Tale of Two Cities was 
something that gripped me, and since I hadn't been able to 
read novels, it was great. 

And high school told me something about my, let's say, 
innate abilities, or interests. For instance, I could handle 
algebra but I just couldn't comprehend geometry, elementary 



51 



geometry; the thing was so difficult for me. I enjoyed a 
course in civics that we had, which was an aspect of social 
studies. Today it would be an aspect of social studies. 
But I remember I had an elementary course in biology and 
one in chemistry — no lab work, because they didn't have labs — 
and I don't think either course left any kind of residue 
whatsoever. I remember the word Paramecium , and I remember 
drawing it, but nothing stuck at all. 

And during this period my athletic interests continued 
all the time, but with some specific concentration on some 
things like tennis, which I love very much. And in this 
period boxing under a pro started when I was about seventeen, 
which I mentioned last time. 

GARDNER: What was the milieu at the school? What were the 
students like and so on? 

MALTZ: The school? I would say that they were there from 
middle-class, lower- middle-class to poor [families], with 
quite a mixed ethnic group. I think, as high schools went, 
the standards were probably quite high. And I think it was 
a wholesome atmosphere. 

GARDNER: Was there any sense of social consciousness at this 
point? 

MALTZ : None . On my part? 

GARDNER: On your part, or in general in the high school. 
MALTZ: There was none in the high school that I can recall. 



52 



But I had, and I mentioned this in the last tape, already a 
strong pacifist conviction, which was nurtured after my 
reading about the war by this one book, which, during my 
senior year, I used to read at lunch hour, with its ex- 
posures of the imperialist nature of World War I and of the 
way in which the munitions makers made their own private 
deals to make money no matter who died. And that was, as 
I can recall, the only aspect of social philosophy that I had. 

Now, I had skipped a grade in elementary school, and as 
a result I was going to graduate from high school in January 
'26. Since my high school grades were very good, I was sure 
that I would be admitted to college. (There wasn't the 
competition then to get into colleges that there is these days.) 
And I applied only to Columbia University. The idea of 
Columbia, Columbia College, was that I would combine living 
at the college with being within a subway ride of home. And 
I had won a scholarship on the basis of — what were they called? 
they weren't state boards. . . . 
GARDNER: State regents. 

MALTZ : State regents. I won a scholarship on that and then 
found a rejection letter from Coliambia. I had gone up there 
to take a kind of an orientation exam (I think it was a plus- 
or-minus one, I'm not sure; I believe it was that) somewhere 
along the line after I had applied, and when I went up, I 
went up to see some official, dean — assistant dean or so on — 



53 



and he said, "Well, you failed this exam." And I was thrown 
into a heap; I hadn't applied to any other college. He 
said, "Well, your grades are so good, I'll give you another 
exam." And I took the other exam. I failed that also. 
GARDNER: What was the exam? 

MALTZ : It covered a lot of different subjects, and it covered 
things like, I don't know, I don't remember it well, but 
I seem to recall questions about an automobile, other kinds 
of questions. And I couldn't answer them. I don't think it 
was, let's say, nervousness, because if I had any tensions 
about exams — and I expect I did — they were never of a kind 
to make me unable to summon up what I really did know. But 
it was something about them. But then I went and saw him 
again, and he said, "VJell, you did so well in high school 
and so well on your regents, we'll give you a try." So 
they admitted me. [laughter] 

I remember that there were two things that hit me when 
I started college: one was the feeling of being overwhelmed 
by the load of work, which was of course a usual freshman 
feeling; and second was, how the hell was I going to work? 
I lived in a dormitory which I think — no, it couldn't have 
dated back to the original King's College, that's too long, 
but it was a very old one. And as I sat in my room at 
night, and in the next room adjacent there were a couple 
of guys talking, I heard every word as you can hear me. I 



54 



don't know whether there were earplugs then. I didn't 
think of them. And then in the morning, if my alarm clock 
was set for seven, alarms started to go off beginning at a 
quarter to six or half past five--guys who maybe waited on 
table or did other things. Every ten minutes the alarms were 
going off all around; you could hear every one of them. And 
I thought, Jesus, you know, how am I going to survive this? 
Well, I was going every day to the hospital to see my 
father. I spoke about the amputation of his legs. And 
then I guess fortunately for me at that moment, I got mono- 
nucleosis, which at that time was not a defined disease. But 
I had to drop out of school because of physical weakness. 
And I and, as a matter of fact, my brother got it at the 
same time and we went through batteries of examinations. They 
thought maybe we had tuberculosis of the glands, because of 
the swollen glands involved, decided not, and then we just 
rested as we had to. Time passed and we very slowly began 
to get well, because we didn't stay in bed; we would have 
gotten well more quickly if they had known about it as they 
do today . 

GARDNER: When would this have been, your freshman year? 
MALTZ : This was my freshman year. I had to drop out after 
about a month of school . 
GARDNER: That soon? 
MALTZ: Yes. And it came, I'm sure, from being around the 



55 



hospital. It's a disease that doctors and nurses get more 
than anybody else. 

Oh, I think another thing that hit me already in the 
little bit that I was in college was the sense that the 
other students knew so much more than I did because they 
had been reading through their high school years and earlier. 
But also [there was] a determination that I was going to 
come back and going to work, that's all, to make it. 
GARDNER: Well, during the time that you were sick did 
you try to make up any of those deficiencies and lie in bed 
and read all those books that you hadn't read? 
riALTZ : No, I think I began to read then. I'm quite sure I 
began to read, because I told you about a secondhand book- 
store where there was an elderly black woman with whom I made 
friends, and she was so sweet. I must have been getting 
books from her. At that time, being already in college, 
my mother wouldn't have said, "Don't read," so I presume 
that that was the time in which I began to read and try to catch 
up. And knowing by this time the name of Dickens and other 
such writers, I would seek their books. And to what ex- 
tent I read contemporary literature then. ... I imagine 
that was when I read--you know, Sinclair Lewis was a best- 
seller at that time; I would have read things like that. 
And I do remember sometime along in there, it was probably 
at this time, that there was a discovery of secondhand-book- 



56 



stores in general . Perhaps the bookstore of this woman was 
the first. I remember being down on lower Tenth Street and 
Fifth Avenue, around there, in that area where there were 
secondhand bookshops, and I probably started to get some. 
And somewhere in here (perhaps it was not as early as this) 
I discovered the Modern Library and had its roll of names and 
books to get. So I began reading. 

Now, that summer my father took a house in the Catskill 
Mountains town of Monticello because he needed a great deal 
of recuperation still. He had been six months in the 
hospital. I went up there with him, with my mother and a 
nurse, and I divided my time between hours of exercise and 
hours of reading. I remember reading Dickens and Chekhov and 
de Maupassant and Galsworthy, Bernard Shaw and Andreyev, and 
reading poetry; I remember particularly Bram Stoker's — was 
it Dracula ? 

GARDNER: Dracula , right. 

MALTZ: Because I remember reading it in the daytime and getting 
scared, so damn scared I couldn't continue with it. What's 
the one with vampires? Is that Dracula ? 
GARDNER: Yes. 

MALTZ: I never finished the damn thing, and I never went to 
any of the films. I don't like that kind of film, I don't 
like that kind of story. But I remember I could feel chills 
down my back . [laughter] I was looking around for vampires. 



57 



GARDNER: And bats. 

MALTZ : Yes, that was the effect of the book, powerful effect. 

And naturally a thread throughout this long summer of 
about four months. . . .[sound interference — tape recorder 
turned off] And of course, during the whole summer there 
was a psychological problem with both my father and my mother 
over what had happened to him: the time when he got his first 
set of prostheses, which then were very primitive compared 
to what they have now, and trying to learn to walk on them-- 
a question of waddling from side to side with what they had 
at that time, an extremely noticeable thing--and some of 
the psychological problems attendant to it. However, by fall 
he went back to the family home in Brooklyn and I believe at 
that time began already to start to engage in business again 
and, as a matter of fact, had been doing some, in terms of 
carrying on things, even while in his hospital bed. 

My first year of college, then, really was from October '26 
to June '27. And fortunately, in the interim a new dormitory 
had been built at Columbia where the walls were thick enough 
so that you wouldn't hear anybody in an adjacent room. I was 
fortunate enough to have a room in it, and that was fine. 
I came back psychologically geared for the burden of work 
that I got, everyone else got, and I had as my ever-present 
friend a dictionary. I don't know how it was, say, when you 
went to college, but I don't think there was a page that I 



58 



turned over in which there wasn't a word that I didn't 
know through lack of reading. And so I kept looking up 
words and after a while, of course, learning them./ 
GARDNER: You just mentioned your ever-present friend the 
dictionary. One thing you haven't talked about--and this 
may be on the level of personal and not really interesting-- 
is the subject of friends, people you were close to in high 
school, and now starting off college. Did you have a 
circle of friends? 

MALTZ : Yes, I had really the same friends with a few new 
additions all through elementary and high school because the 
same boys I grew up with went to the same high school. I ad- 
vanced about a year beyond them as we went on but would see 
them, and when we came back from classes we just continued 
our same games. Except that I knew a fellow who moved to 
our street when I was about ten or twelve or so, and then 
when I went in for playing tennis, it was with him rather 
than the others. But the various sports and the handball 
and touch football and so on continued with the same group 
of guys. There was one new friend that I remember making in 
Columbia who didn't live in my area, but who went on to 
college with me, and I'll speak about him. I had made some 
friends in camp, also, whom I saw in the winter upon occasion- 
not too often, but they were very good friends. 
GARDNER: So there was more than your dictionary. 



59 



MALTZ: Oh, yes. When I got to college, of course, I was 
eager to make friends and did make friends, and I'll speak 
of this. 

The most important course in the first year at Columbia 
at that time was a course called Contemporary Civilization, 
which was five hours of classes a week with a considerable 
amount of reading and some very rich reading. For someone 
like myself, it just opened windows on areas of life and 
history that were to me marvelous. And I think maybe for the 
first time in a profound way I got caught by the excitement 
of learning, just learning things that you hadn't known 
about that were interesting and were revealing. I remember 
sometimes when I'd go back--I suppose I ' d go back to my 
family home, I'd say, about once a month — and I would just 
talk and talk and talk to my parents about these things about 
which they knew nothing but which they found interesting and 
which I found so profoundly interesting. I believe that I 
had to take another entire year (maybe it was only a semester) 
of Spanish and ended up able to read, with a dictionary, a 
[Vicente] Blasco Ibanez novel, but not able to talk at all, 
which was the wrong way to teach Spanish. I remember I took 
a course in trigonometry and that was one of the few math 
courses I enjoyed and was able to do well. I had a brilliant 
teacher who made his lessons a constant series of witticisms, 
absolutely brilliant. But nothing remained of it for me; I've 



60 



forgotten everything about it. I never used it in my life. 
And I have wondered, in terms of theories of education, as 
to the value of something like that or the value of the two 
years of Latin that I took. I know there's the claim that 
if you know Latin you understand the roots of a great deal 
of the English words, but it seems to me if I put those 
two years in on studying Fowler's English Usage or other 
such things in English, that I would have gotten further 
ahead than by taking Latin. But I don't know. . . . One 
would have to speak to educators at the source. 
GARDNER: Well, they don't emphasize Latin a great deal 
anymore, but they don't seem to emphasize English anymore to 
a great extent. 

MALTZ: Well, the fact of what is not emphasized today 
would not make me conclude that I was right, because they 
don't teach geography today and they should. They have appar- 
ently guys in law school here--an attorney was telling me 
recently, an attorney who taught in law school here, that, 
let alone teaching his students law, that he had to teach them 
how to write a business letter so that they carried an idea 

through from A to Z in a letter. 

GARDNER: Right. 

MALTZ: Now, this is no system of education, if that's what 

you have with the men in law school. I understand today 

there are young teachers of English in universities who 

don't write well, who don't write proper English. 

61 



GARDNER: It's true. 

MALTZ ; Well, the system has gone haywire. If you can't 
cominunicate, where are you? So that I can understand now. 
In the second half of my freshman year, there was an 
obligatory course in philosophy, and I was fortunate enough 
to have an absolutely marvelous instructor. His name was 
Irwin Edman, a name that you might know; if you don't, a 
slightly older generation of men would know it. Anyone 
would know it because he published some books. One was a 
best-seller, as a matter of fact, on philosophy, a populari- 
zation. He was one of the most gifted talkers I've ever 
known. Have you read any of [George] Santayana? 
GARDNER: Yes. 

MALTZ: You know his really eloquent prose, if you agree with 
me about it. Irwin Edman talked like that. He got up be- 
fore a class and he talked with such beauty, with such grace 
of phraseology, with such felicitousness, that it was like 
listening to music, but it was full of ideas. His summation 
in a given hour of what one dialogue of Plato consisted of 
and the philosophy of Plato behind Aristotle, something 
like that, was just incredible. Ah, if I only had had a tape 
recorder at that time. And indeed, if his lectures had 
ever been tape recorded. . . . Because I think I've never 
known anyone else like that. I've never known anyone else 
like that, and I've had some splendid teachers in my life. 



62 



It was not just his teaching, of course, but something about 
the materials, for reasons I may not wholly understand now, 
that hooked me. I believe probably that I was searching for 
some truths about life, searching for some sort of intellectual 
foundation in an unconscious way, not in a conscious way. 
And I felt as though I'd, let's say, come to a well and I 
was thirsty, and all I had to do was drink. How much it 
meant to me is exemplified in an interesting way. 

It had been my dream that when I got to college I 
would make the tennis team and the swimming team. There was 
no swim team at my high school. There was a tennis team, and 
I won't go into what happened there, where I didn't make that 
team. But I made my freshman tennis team and played a 
doubles match by the time I finished my second exam in this 
course in philosophy. I had gotten an A on the first exam. 
He gave an exam each month. In the second exam, as he went 
down the aisle giving out the papers. Professor Edman said, 
"You didn't do so well on this exam, Mr. Maltz," and I 
looked at it and I had a B. I had an A on the first one. 
And I stopped tennis. I don't mean I stopped playing, but 
I got off the team because of the amount of hours that you 
needed for practice. I knew that I had spent less time 
reading philosophy; I just hadn't had the time, what with 
the other courses as well. And that was an example of [snaps 
fingers] an abrupt change. I didn't have to think about it. 



63 



I didn't have to argue with myself. I didn't have any debate. 
I just quit. I wanted philosophy. It's just fascinating to me. 

By the way, Irwin Edman was a small man, oh, probably 
about five- [foot] -four , and an albino. His eyes--I don't 
know whether this is also characteristic of albinos--his 
eyes moved a little bit. His pupils were not static, they 
kind of had a little vibration, as it were. Well, maybe 
that was some eye condition that he had. And he had this 
white hair — no, kind of reddish hair, it was whitish hair-- 
white face, red eyelids, as I recall. Not a very prepossessing- 
looking man until you listened to him for five minutes and 
then he was. [laughter] And [he was] always a very, very 
popular teacher because he was so damned good. He was a 
close friend of Santayana's, by the way. And oh, it was 
during the first semester (this was the second semester) that 
I stopped that sort of neurotic side play of my interest in 
studies. I stopped the boxing. I used to keep going down- 
town from Columbia about twice a week to this little gym 
where pro fighters were being trained, you know, and I didn't 
belong there really, of course. 

GARDNER: Did you just work out there? You sparred and so on? 
MALTZ : Yes, and I was being trained. I was being trained 
for the Golden Gloves that I was going to start, see. But 
one day a curious little thing happened which resulted in 
my having kind of a semiconcussion almost, and I quit at that 



64 



point--which was about time, [laughter] I was very eager 
at that time also to join a fraternity, and I did; the high 
point for me was being accepted, and after that it was all 
downhill. By the spring of that year I was no longer going, 
and the next year I severed from it. 
GARDNER: What was the fraternity? 

MALTZ: It was called ZBT [Zeta Beta Tau] . Now, I made 
some friends at college in the first year [who] were my 
friends throughout. One was a marvelous boy really. He 
came into college at about sixteen as a prodigy, and he had 
the celebrated name of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Jr. He was 
the grandson of the baseball commissioner, an Indiana boy 
whose father was a judge. And between his first year and his 
second he grew about a foot. I guess he was about a little 
taller than I am when he first came in; when he came back, 
turned up the next year, he was over six feet, with pipestem 
arms and legs but very strong. And he and I just hit it 
off in the most marvelous way. We used to talk together and 
eat together and visit each other's rooms and so on. He may 
have come in a semester after I [did], I don't remember any- 
more, and we remained friends for years and corresponded 
together. He had to leave college in his senior year because 
he got TB, and he was in a sanatorium for part of the time 
out in California. When I came out here at a certain point 
I saw him. We then corresponded and so on, but he died at 



65 



an early age. He died when he was about forty. 

I remember being appalled by something he did in his 
sophomore year. He needed money. His father, in spite of 
being a judge, didn't have very much, or maybe he was an 
ex- judge by that time. As a matter of fact, he had run for 
governor of Indiana, and Ken left college at a certain point, 
I don't remember whether it was his first year or his second 
year, to help his father's campaign. His father lost. It 
was a campaign to get the Democratic nomination, I think, 
or Republican nomination, I no longer recall. Ken came back 
and told me that in the convention hall there had been an 
interruption for about an hour in the convention while backers 
of his father's opponent went around and handed out, I think 
it was, $100 bills to delegates. And then they voted. Just 
openly! [laughter] But he needed money and went in for poker 
playing. That was Prohibition time. He and the group who 
were playing with him used to start playing on a Friday 
night, and they would play straight through till Sunday morning 
or Sunday afternoon. And I remember I'd go around and watch 
them for maybe five, ten minutes on Friday night — never had 
an interest in cards--and then I would come and watch them 
for five minutes on Saturday and then on Sunday. And what 
Ken had over the other guys was that he could drink and stay 
sober, and he would win money at this, on which he lived. 
Whether or not that had anything to do with the tuberculosis 



66 



that developed, that kind of life, I don't know. But that 
was so of him. 

Another friend I had was one I had met in high school. 
Jules Eisenbud went to college with me and in subsequent 
years became an analyst. He is an analyst in Denver and 
has been known, both with approval and with disapproval, for 
his great interest in extrasensory perception. And he's 
written on that. He gave a lecture here on that, as a matter 
of fact, in the sixties. I came and attended it. I remember 
that, oh, very early after he got out of college and came 
back from Vienna where he had gone for his studies, I think 
with Freud, I'm not sure, he manifested that interest. 

My closest friend, and the man who became my roommate 
in the second year, was Beryl Levy. He was a Brooklyn boy. 



67 



TAPE NUMBER: II, SIDE TWO 
AUGUST 5, 1976 

MALTZ : Beryl Levy's background, or way of life before 
college, had been the very opposite of mine: he never took 
any exercise of any sort, had none of my interest in sports, 
but loved the dictionary. And my first impression of him was 
watching him in class, I think it was Contemporary Civiliza- 
tion; he asked some questions, and I heard words used that 
I hadnever heard before in my life, [laughter] And I felt 
very ignorant and tliought how brilliant this guy is. He was 
an extremely lively, ebullient man, a very bright mind, had 
great interests in all sorts of things intellectual. [He was 
a] great devotee of Gilbert and Sullivan, whose songs he 
could sing at the drop of a hat. And as the year passed we 
came to see more and more of each other and found each other 
just the company we wanted, so that we agreed to room together 
in our second year. He was, for that phase of my life and 
for several years thereafter, excellent company and marvelously 
stimulating. He too was majoring in philosophy, so that we 
had this common interest and a number of classes together. 
Another friend was Milton Katims/ who has been the con- 
ductor of the Seattle Symphony for a good many years and plays 
the viola. At that time he was a violinist who played a lot. 
And since he lived off campus, he used to use my room in between 



68 



classes when he had no place to go, used it for study and 
so on. But [he is] a man I haven't seen since college. 

Still another was Ben Maddow, who is a screenwriter, 
and at that time he was a poet very highly thought of by 
Mark Van Doren, who tried to get a book of poetry of his 
published. I never understood his poetry, but Mark did 
apparently and liked it, and I would trust Mark's taste more 
than my own. 

GARDNER: What sort of poetry was it that you didn't under- 
stand it? 

r-lALTZ : Well, let's say I don't understand Ezra Pound's poetry. 
GARDNER: It was in that sort of. . . ? 

MALTZ : Perhaps, I don't know. Or the poetry of — who was the 
man that died at sea, the poet that either fell overboard 
or [was] a suicide? He was a well-known contemporary poet, 
the name is just not in my mind. Well, he was a name at that 
time in a way that Pound was not yet, and it was in that vein. 
But side by side with Edna St. Vincent Millay then, who was 
quite a name at that time, there was this whole other strain 
of poetry which I didn't understand then; I don't understand now, 
GARDNER: You mean Eliot? 

MALTZ: No, not Eliot. Eliot is one I understand. I forget 
the name. But there is a good deal of modern poetry that I 
find no reward in reading because I don't understand it. And 
[Maddow] is no longer my friend, by the way, because of his 



69 



testimony before the committee, [House] Un-American [Activities] 
Committee. Among the other men I knew were Arthur Krim 
and Robert Blumofe, two men who became attorneys and then, 
with another man, took over United Artists around 19 50, Krim 
becoming the head and Robert Blumofe one of the vice-presidents. 
I don't remember anymore the name of the law school senior 
who happened to be next door to me at the time I was preparing 
for final exams in the spring of my first year. Because I 
knocked on his door one night and I said, "Would you mind 
telling me who this author 'Ibid* is?" I had seen "Ibid" 
in the footnotes for a year, and I didn't know, [laughter] 
GARDNER: He certainly was a versatile and prolific author. 
MALTZ: Certainly was a prolific author, [laughter] That 
spring semester the way I did in my exams established the 
pattern of my years in college in terms of studies, because 
I was an A student and remained that, and as I went on I had 
the confidence that in any subject I chose which I enjoyed, 
I would remain that. And for me it was a good and I would 
say healthy feeling (of course, there were other feelings of 
inadequacy) and was part of the total excitement I felt and 
continued to feel at this marvelous process of learning, 
which was so very exciting. That year, by the end of the 
year I think the question began that would loom more and 
more in my life, which was: What am I going to do with my 
life? I had not entered college with any kind of profession 



70 



in mind. My father had wanted me to be an attorney, and 
I don't know whether it was just for unconscious opposition 
to him, I made up my mind that I wasn't going to be an at- 
torney. Maybe there were other factors in that that I no 
longer recall. 

GARDNER: What were your brothers doing? 

MALTZ : Well, my brothers were both by that time in business, 
[tape recorder turned off] My brothers were in business with 
my father. Well, that summer my father again went to Monti- 
cello, and again it was with a nurse he still needed, and 
my grandmother, whom I didn't mention before, was there as 
well . From time to time my brothers or an aunt would come 
up for a weekend, or something like that. And I spent the 
summer much as I had the previous one, only now my reading 
started to include dialogues of Plato, which I had been intro- 
duced to, and Aristotle's Poetics and things like that, as 
well as novels and other materials. However, I guess I 
can say now that my concentration on philosophy in college 
made my acquaintanceship with other subjects very haphazard. 
In some ways I think it was wrong for me to concentrate that 
much, but I did it and it also paid off in certain benefits, 
I think, real benefits. But aside from the two obligatory 
courses in English that I took, one in my first year which 
was English--well, no, English composition, which was valuable, 
and at the end of which the instructor said to the class. 



71 



gratuitously, "No one in this class will ever become a writer." 
[laughter] I don't know why he said that. Maybe he at that 
moment was submitting material to magazines or had pxiblished 
something and felt very smug about it. I always happened to 
remember the remark, even though at that time I had no in- 
tention of writing. And [aside from] another course which 
was very important to me because of what came out of it 
(which I'll mention), I took no more courses in literature. 
So there are books which I would have read along the way if 
I had which I 've still not read. I took no courses in his- 
tory, I took no courses in economics. I once started a 
course in economics and found the instructor boring and, 
under the latitude of the Columbia system at that time, 
after three sessions I was allowed to drop out. I dropped 
out and took another course in philosophy. 
GARDNER: You were able to take nothing but philosophy? 
MALTZ : No, there were a few other courses. If I'd been 
aiming for medicine I would have had to take an allotted 
amount of scientific courses. And I had to have a year of 
science, but since I was not interested in science, you could 
take a couple of easy courses — one was astronomy and the 
other was geology — and that was my science. That was fine 
for me because it was more literary than anything else. After 
I'd finished my year of Spanish and a course in hygiene that 
we had to take, and I mentioned trigonometry, there were, as 



72 



I recall, not many things that I had to take. I voluntarily 
took one semester of French once, my own decision, and I 
voluntarily tried a course in chemistry once. I'll skip at 
this point because it comes into this. 

In my agitation over what I was going to do, I thought, 
well, maybe I want to become a physician--a good profession, 
romantic, you help people. I said, but I've got to have some 
science, I've got to know I can do science. And I think in 
my junior year I took a course in chemistry. And then I 
started to learn the theory of the thing and found out later 
on the first exam they didn't want the theory; they wanted 
the formula, and I hadn't learned the formula. Well, what 
really told me where I stood with chemistry was going to lab. 
We had three hours of laboratory on Saturday, and by the time 
I got my test tubes and Bunsen burner and other little things 
out of my locker, the other students around me had finished 
their first experiment. Every Saturday (and this still con- 
tinues in my life, by the way) I would grab a hot test tube, 
and I would come away with burns and have a bandage on my 
hand for the weekend with burns. I was always grabbing the 
goddamn hot test tube, [laughter] And then somewhere along 
the way, after about six weeks or so, we had to do an experiment 
with some potassium permanganate, and I remember putting it 
in the solution; it was a perfectly beautiful, purple color, 
and the sun was shining, and I held it up to one of the 



73 



windows and shook it, and the bubbles were there. An 
assistant instructor was passing at the time, and I said, 
"Look!" And he looked up and said, "Yes," and he gave me 
the formula and went on. I said, "Oh, this is not for me. 
I'm interested in the beauty of this." [laughter] So I 
quit the course, as I could at that time, because of my 
grades and standing, without even getting a bad mark or a 
"fail" on it. And that was the end of my trying to be a doctor, 

But for those in the liberal arts at that time, or 
humanities (whatever they called it) , if you maintained I think 
a B average or a B+ average, something like that, after you 
had completed a small number of these obligatory courses, you 
could take whatever you chose. And I just took course after 
course in philosophy. In my second year there was a very 
intensive f ive-hour-a-week course in the history of philosophy, 
one year, with a lot of reading. I also remember a very 
important course to me which was one in comparative religions. 
Because whatever doubts and conflicts I still had about the 
question of God and did God create the universe and so on — 
you must remember that was, after all, fifty years ago when 
the hand of religion was much more over people than it is 
today — this course was one in which I could see, through the 
study of comparative religions, how different things 
thought to be sacrosanct, handed down from on high were related 
to the growth of one culture into another. And it just ended. 



74 



for me, all questions of deity and religion — not the ethics 
of religion, of course, which are universal; the Sermon on 
the Mount is as valid today as any other equal doctrine. All 
religions have them. 

But in, I think, the second semester of the second year, 
or the first semester, probably the first semester, I had 
a course with John Erskine in Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser 
(Spenser is the poet, is he not?), and a few others. And 
I wouldn't have taken it if it hadn't been obligatory. 
Does the name Erskine mean anything to you? 
GARDNER: I know the name. 

MALTZ : Yes. Well, he was a really Renaissance man. He was 
professor of English at Columbia. He was the head of the 
Juilliard School of Music, which was attached to Columbia. 
He was a concert pianist, and he was a very successful writer 
of light, historical romances. And he was a marvelous teacher 
We had to read the Faerie Queene , Spenser's; I read it, and 
although in some respects it was dull, in other respects I 
was enchanted by the man's quality of poetry. It was extra- 
ordinary. We had to write an essay about it. I came in 
to class a week or two later, and Erskine said he wanted to 
read one essay. And he read mine. I was flabbergasted by 
his reading of it and his praise of it, and out of this busi- 
ness of what am I going to do in life, I went up to him 
afterwards, stammering, and asked him if he thought I could 



75 



be a writer. And he said, "If you have something to say, 
yes." And that put the thought in my mind, gee, maybe I 
could become a writer. That seemed to be a most mar- 
velous profession. And I said, all right, I'll see if I 
have anything to say. But as a result of that I did the 
next year take a course in short-story writing and begin 
to think of that. (Although, as I say, in my junior year 
I also took a course in chemistry to see if I could be 
a doctor.) 

GARDNER: Had you essayed any short stories before you took 
the course? 

MALTZ : No, I had not done anything. I had not tried any 
kind of writing that I can recall. . . . 
GARDNER: Other than what was required in classes. 
MALTZ: . . . other than what was required in school. I had 
had no bug for writing before that. But that bug grew very 
powerfully from that time on. Because in my senior year 
while carrying on my studies, I wrote a novel at the same 
time, a fantasy novel as a matter of fact, kind of a science 
fiction novel. I did take in my second year — I think because 
a friend suggested it, another friend, a man who became a 
rather distinguished reporter, Harold Isaacs, who is now 
teaching at MIT, I think — I took a course in the history 
of something I think like the theory of government. And 
yet that wasn't quite the name of it. [It was] with a mar- 



76 



velous teacher, Peter Odegard, who wrote books and subse- 
quently became head of Reed College for a while and then 
head of the Department of Political Science at Berkeley. 
And now he was a friend at college, Peter Odegard became a 
friend, and as a matter of fact, when he left Coliambia in 
our senior year, Harold Isaacs and I hitchhiked up to 
Williams College and spent a weekend with him and his family. 
In succeeding years when he was at Ohio State and I was 
passing through the country, I would stop at Ohio State and 
see him and his wife and kid. Then he stopped on his way to 
Reed College to see me in Los Angeles. And we were friends. 
He was a very, very stimulating man, a marvelous teacher. 
I suppose you've had the same experiences I've had. Teachers, 
good teachers are just golden, absolutely golden; they're so 
marvelous in what they can do for a human being. And they're 
not honored enough, really. I have a friend in East Germany 
who is not only a professor but he's "professor doctor." 
Apparently over there and in Europe in general, certain 
countries of Europe, there is a kind of respect for a 
professor, which not all professors deserve, I'm sure. But 
a good teacher remains with you forever in what they con- 
tribute to your soul, you know, to your mind. 

I took this course in extension, and I got no credit 
for it. It was just extra work and extra reading, but that 
was exciting, that thing. And in that year, having given up 



77 



tennis, I went into wrestling, and not for the team because 
I never would spend the time ever again trying to get on a 
team. But it was something. It was a sport I liked. I 
don't know if you know anything about it, but it is very 
scientific. I'm not talking about the crap, you know, the 
vaudeville acts the professionals do, but really scientific 
wrestling is just marvelous. And I used to watch the matches; 
that one indulgence I gave myself on Saturday afternoons in 
winter. Probably about fifty of us in the whole college 
watched it. Nobody else was interested. 

I don't know what I did that summer; I'm trying to 
think and that's where my notes just about stopped. The 
summer of my second year, I just don't remember; it's a blank. 
I don't remember whether I was up in Monticello again. But 
the third year introduced, in addition to whatever other 
courses I took--oh, I remember, it's the third year or fourth 
year--well, courses in philosophy, Aristotle, and Santayana. 
As a matter of fact, since I 've just been talking about good 
teachers, I think I'll mention an example of a brilliant but 
bad teacher. I had I think in my senior year, or junior year 
it might have been, a single seminar where I was alone with 
the instructor. We met once a week and he gave me reading 
to do--a man called [Richard] McKeon, who went on to become, 
I think, dean of students at Chicago, probably now retired, 
very respected, with a fantastic knowledge of his field and 



78 



fantastic mental recall. And his field was Greek and inedi- 
eval philosophy. I'd go in there having studied, let's say, 
some of Aristotle's Logic during the week that was tough 
going for me, and I would come in with some questions for 
him and certain observations. And although I didn't under- 
stand it at first and came to understand it later, he would 
take my propositions (and he wasn't just being, let's say, 
Socratic in upsetting my apple cart to make me think more) , 
but he would beat down what I said by opposite propositions 
from Aquinas, and send me off to study some Aquinas. I'd 
study Aquinas during the week and that was tough going too, 
and I'd come in with this Aquinas thing and then he'd beat 
me back with Aristotle. After a while I realized that he 
was not interested in teaching me, he was interested in 
showing off. And even though I was just an audience of one, 
he was enjoying being a smart aleck. He didn't give a damn 
what I learned or what I didn't learn. Now, of course it 
was a rigorous time in the sense that I had to apply myself 
with every nerve fiber, but it was in no sense a happy learning 
time or a creative learning time. It was just getting hit 
on the head with an intellectual club once a week, and that's 
the opposite of an Odegard or an Irwin Edman. In a year, 
half a semester later or something like that, I also had a 
one-man semester with Irwin Edman on Santayana, and it was 
a very different kind of experience. 



79 



GARDNER: But what sort of philosophy was taking shape with- 
in you at this point? 
MALTZ : Personal philosophy? 

GARDNER: Right. Were you drawing from what you were learning? 
Of course it was very early on for anyone to be carving out 
a personal philosophy, but still, was there a direction in 
your attitude? 

MALTZ: No, I don't think there was a direction in my attitude, 
and for certain reasons . There were things that happened to 
me as a result of it and not a direction in my own philosophical 
attitude. Of course a great deal of philosophy and history 
of philosophy is occupied with the problem of knowledge, episte- 
mology--do you know reality or do you not? — and each philosopher 
in turn grappled with it for centuries. So what you did was 
to study their grapplings with this problem. Do we know 
reality or don't we? Or maybe you're dreaming. And I'm going 
to tell you later, when I come to the question of my reading 
of Marxism, why I was so impressed with Engels because of what 
he said in a footnote about the question of epistemology . But 
as a result it isn't as though you were reading a contemporary 
work which, facing the world in which we exist — let's say 
Sartre, who was saying, "What can we believe in?"--most of 
philosophy was not occupied with that, and therefore I was 
not consciously grappling and saying, "Yes, I believe with 
him in this, or I differ with him in that," and thereby formu- 



80 



lating my own philosophy. 

Now, along the way, of course, I remember I got cer- 
tain lasting attitudes towards aesthetics through reading 
Aristotle's Poetics , because I think his Poetics are basically 
sound dramaturgically today. And I certainly got out of 
his Ethics that sense of the mean, which I've retained--the 
mean between opposites. What I think philosophy did do for 
me very much was to call upon me to try and use whatever 
intellect I had in a stern way, stay with the material and 
try to think it through. And if I didn't understand something, 
to reread it a second a third or fourth time, and to grapple 
with the concepts. That was good training for me. In a 
sense, if you march a soldier sixteen or twenty miles a day, 
you're helping him survive. And also it emphasized logic 
for me. Whatever other talents I lack, I have been unable 
to use characters and events illogically. In film work that 
I've done, there's motivation for the characters and there's 
logic in the events. I don't accept the way in which people 
leap from one thing to another without having motivation, 
the kind of comment I made about High Noon . This kind of 
thing bothers me about any material, and certainly if I'm 
working on it, and this affected all my writing. [It] probably 
affected an attitude I developed early while I was still 
doing playwriting, which was the decision that if I came 
upon something that I was working on, preparing, where I 



81 



didn't know what the facts were, instead of just making it 
up out of my head, which other writers do, I would, say, 
go to the facts, find out the material. Usually if you find 
out the real material, you invent something better than you 
would have invented if you had just made it up out of your 
head. You don't have to be afraid of facts. They're not 
your enemy; they can be your aid. I think that came out of 
the study in philosophy as well. I think it also stimulated 
very much my search for moral values in my life and in the 
society in which I exist. So that it was rather attitudes, 
rather than the full-blown philosophy, which I think was created, 
GARDNER: Let me ask one other question somewhat along that 
line. The year we're talking about now is '28-29. There 
would have been a presidential election in 1928. Were you 
either aware or involved politically in any way? 
MALTZ : I was not involved politically, but I do remember that 
my roommate said, "Hey, let's have a lark. We'll take the 
night train down to Washington, and we'll watch Hoover being 
inaugurated." And so we did. I remember how sleepy I was 
through the inauguration because I hadn't slept all night — 
the noisy train of people going down — and I was half a mile 
away from the steps of the Capitol. We were there but that 
was all it was. However, I don't know whether it was then 
or the next year, more likely the next year, that somewhere 
by accident, maybe someplace where I would pass, I would 



82 



occasionally run across a copy of I think at that time it was 
called the Masses (and then later the New Masses ) . Well, 
it was the Masses then. And this was like getting my hands 
on a curiously fascinating object from another world, and I 
remember reading those copies with interest. It didn't 
stimulate me to do anything or go to a meeting; as a matter 
of fact, during this period, I recall, in kind of a snobbish 
way I gave up reading newspapers altogether. When I was in 
high school I had read the papers at home, and I think at 
the beginning I began to read the New York Times , but I know 
there was a period, and probably it began by about my sopho- 
more year at least, that I just didn't read the newspapers. 
I was reading philosophy--what did I need the newspapers for? 
It was that kind of attitude. 

Oh, I've forgotten that one thing I did have all through 
college was a little wind-up Victrola, where every time you 
played a record, you had to wind it. And I had about, I 
don't know, ten records, twenty records, and as I recall they 
were mostly Bach and Beethoven. I would play the same things 
over and over again with great satisfaction. Why I didn't 
get more records, I don't know, because I think I could have-- 
financially I could have--I just didn't. I guess the idea 
of owning more. ... In fact, I didn't know anybody else 
who had any music in his room. I met a student who was a 
friend of mine there, his father was a bandleader, Edwin 



83 



Franco Goldman. His name was the same, junior. He was a 
friend of mine. I'd forgotten about him. He went on to 
conduct his father's band until recently, or I think he's 
still conducting in New York. He was a guy who impressed 
me because he would speak about music in ways that I had 
never heard in my life. 

Now, in my third year I began the course called Honors. 
I think it was from this course that the Great Books came 
into existence, because Mortimer Adler was intimately in- 
volved with the Great Books, and he was involved with teaching 
Honors. My two instructors I had basically for two years who 
were both present in the Honors course were Adler and Mark 
Van Doren. We sat at a table like this in a room smaller 
than this, and there were probably about twelve or fifteen 
students, and each week we had another great book that we 
read. We talked about it, and it was very, very stimulating, 
very, very exciting. It was very interesting to have a 
man as brilliant as Adler was and as valuable and as deliber- 
ately show-offy, against a man of far greater simplicity and 
far more interest, I think, in really getting students to learn, 
Much quieter, who spoke not one-tenth of the words of Adler 
in a given evening, but when he spoke I listened to him more 
closely--and that was Mark Van Doren, whom I came to treasure, 
a marvelous teacher. I think once or twice when Mark might 
have been ill or occupied, his older brother Carl came. 



84 



Subsequently I taught at a summer school some years later 
where Carl was and came to know him. And he was the same 
kind. These are just great men, great human beings. Mortimer 
Adler (as I discovered later, I didn't know at the time) was 
capable of great phoniness. Not that he wasn't, you know 
really stimulating and an excellent teacher and a great deal 
of good things that he did, but when we had the session on 
Freud I asked him later, because he conducted it mostly, I 
said, "Well, what I don't understand is why people change 
in analysis." And he said, "Well, as to that, I would have 
to explain it in mathematical terms that I know you can't 
understand." I accepted that because I knew that he knew 
some mathematics, and I didn't know any. But later when I 
was in analysis myself and learned why people change, I knew 
what crap this had been from him, you see. Now, Mark would 
never have said that. He would have said a simple, "I don't 
know . " 

Now, since--it's a leap, but I'll talk about Mark for 
the moment, if I may. He has an autobiography, which I read. 
As a matter of fact, about a year before he died, it was 
about a year or two, there was an article on him in Life maga- 
zine showing where he worked in his summer home. On a happy 
impulse, I wrote him a letter, in care of Life , I guess, or 
to a small town or to Columbia, to tell him how much he had 
meant to me as a student. And [I] got back a card from him 



85 



saying he remembered me, he had followed me over the years, 
and he was very glad to get my letter, and so on. I was 
pleased that I did write him since he was to die the next 
year, but just so a guy would hear from one of his students 
who did appreciate him. Do you remember what happened with 
his son? 
GARDNER: Yes. 

MALTZ : Well, this is something I would love to write as a 
drama. Really, it belongs on TV, but no TV station would do 
it because it could be exposing themselves. In his auto- 
biography Mark says: And then came the time when Charles was 
invited to participate in the "Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar 
Question" on TV, and within a few weeks all of America was 
watching him. He made the name of egghead important (or how- 
ever he phrased it) . And thousands of letters came in from 
all over the country, and it was wonderfully exciting, and 
we all waited for these Monday nights or Tuesday nights, or 
whatever they were. And he goes on like that, and then he 
says: And then Charles married so-and-so and went off to 
Europe. He just completely omits what happened in terms of 
the fraud being discovered and the appearance of his son 
before a judge and all of that. And I said to myself, I 
can understand how Mark would have blotted it out because 
it was so painful to him, but how could the publishers let 
this go through? And then I thought, well, maybe they just 



86 



said, "It is too painful to him. We're not going to ask 
him to take it out. We're not going to ask him to put 
anything in that should be there. We'll just let it go 
through." And they did. And it's an absolutely unbelievable 
thing to read. If I were able to write it, I think I would 
do the tragedy — the tragedy of pride, of hubris, I guess — 
of a young man brought up in a household where a great many 
celebrated people came, just normally, and where he met Joseph 
Wood Krutch, and Wendell Willkie coming around, and authors 
and so on and so forth, and [he] aspired to be celebrated 
like them. And when this thing came up with the "Sixty-four 
Thousand Dollar Question," and the moment came of saying, 
"Will I or will I not," that desire, I think not so much for 
money, but to be celebrated and to be important was something 
that he had had burning in him from the time he was a kid, 
much more than his father would have when he was just the 
son of a country physician, of a midwestern physician. That's 
the way I would write it. Maybe the surmise isn't true, but 
I think it is. And then the parents' reaction, these sensi- 
tive parents, to the fact that their son had done something 
as gross as that, to cheat a whole nation. . . . What a 
tragedy, what a frightful tragedy. 

Well, anyway, those two years in Honors were just great, 
marvelously stimulating. Of course [they were] in a sense 
superficial in that you only discussed one book for two hours 



87 



or two and a half hours of an evening, once a week; but 
[it was] opening a door and saying, "You can come back to it 
if you wish." And in the group were the brightest students 
around. You didn't want to miss any of the classes. 

That summer I went to Europe with my oldest brother, 
Edward, a long, four months' trip in which we went to a lot 
of countries. And not knowing languages, we got only super- 
ficial [tape recorder turned off] impressions of countries — 
of course the museums, naturally, and what the eye could take in, 
GARDNER: How many countries did you go to? 
MALTZ : Oh my, we went first to France, and then Holland. 
We met some girls on the boat going over, and they were the 
reason we went to Holland at that time. They invited us be- 
cause they were members of Moral Re-Armament [MRA] , which was 
at work then, and they hoped to get some recruits and were 
having some sort of a meeting there. So we joined the group 
in Scheveningen and were around there. We made no hay with 
the girls, pulled out of the Buchman movement within a couple 
of days, but found Holland an enchanting place. We didn't 
see much of France, a little bit, stopped off, I remember, 
in some wine country town, Bordeaux maybe. And we went to 
Spain, where we were in Madrid and Barcelona. I remember 
there getting some sense of the poverty that I had not seen 
before, because in certain areas of Spain at that time people 
were living in caves. Now actually, cave life can be pretty 



88 



good, I think, because they can keep people dry and be cool 
in the summer and warm in the winter. But I didn't know that 
and it seemed bad. But walking around Madrid at night at 
that time, you'd see beggars asleep in doorways at night, 
and one had a sense of something there, but I didn't think 
in social terms beyond that. As a matter of fact, I thought 
so little in social terms that when we were in Germany and 
in the town of Heidelberg, we had an encounter with some 
anti-Semitic students, probably Nazi students who were saying 
things and making insulting gestures as we were going to our 
little pension. And they were stopped by a cop. But we 
didn't know what this stood for. And though it was '29, we 
didn't know about Brownshirts or anything about it. I remember 
we met a family, an English-speaking family in Austria, and 
they didn't speak about this kind of thing at all. V7e were 
in Italy and I knew that there was Mussolini in Italy. I 
knew that. But for us, going to Italy was the same as going 
to France. I guess those were about the countries we were in. 
It was essentially a tour of museums, to an extent--as I said, 
the superficial impressions of what your eye can gather. 

When we came back and I went into school, of course the 
Crash happened in the end of October, as I recall, '29. And 
while it didn't affect me in any immediate way, it started 
to affect friends who left school. I mentioned particular 
friends, but of course I knew a great many more men than that. 



89 



I know that a number I knew had to drop out of college be- 
cause their fathers went flat busted, and paying tuition v/as 
out of the question; the fellows had to go out and get work. 
I don't know whether or not I started to read the news- 
paper then. I don't know as I did. The full impact of the 
Depression, in terms of unemployment and the apple sellers 
and so on, didn't begin immediately in '29, as I recall. 
It came a little more gradually than that. And so one didn't 
begin to see the apple sellers on the streets and Hoovervilles 
springing up along Riverside Drive, where I used to walk, 
until later. Otherwise I was little affected by it immediately, 
And so for me I think the year was once again a year of inten- 
sive study and a year of making Phi Beta Kappa, which was a 
big aim of mine, a hope. Oh, but I've forgotten, I left out 
something from my junior year. In the junior year I took a 
course in short-story writing. 
GARDNER: You mentioned that before. 

MALTZ : It had a limited value only, because the man who 
taught it had a theory about writing, which he carried out 
himself, which is that you should only write about what people 
do and what they say and not what they think. Why he wanted 
to leave out what they think, I don't know, but he insisted 
that that was how we write. 
GARDNER: Who was it? 
MALTZ: I forget his name. 



90 



GARDNER: No one. . . ? 

MALTZ: He had published some novels, [but he] doesn't re- 
main as a well-known writer--a pleasant man. And it was 
a certain exercise in descriptive powers, which is all right 
but not really in short-story writing. And I don't remember 
anything about the short stories I wrote. I never kept any 
of this stuff, unfortunately. 

My senior year I took a course in playwriting from a 
man who had won a Pulitzer Prize, Hatcher Hughes, and it 
was a useful course. 



91 



TAPE NUMBER: III, SIDE ONE 
AUGUST 5, 19 76 

GARDNER: You were talking about playwriting. 
MALTZ : I'm talking about playwriting. I know that in 
my senior year--I don't think that it would have been earlier 
because I believe it was the first semester of senior year 
that I took this course--! wrote probably half a dozen one- 
act plays which I sent away to contests. I expect by that 
time I must have been buying a writers magazine, something 
like that, so I was trying for contests. I also wanted to 
write a three-act play about a personal subject, which I 
have forgotten to mention, which was important in my college 
years. I was dissuaded from writing it by Hatcher Hughes, 
because he said a current hit on Broadway called . . . oh, it 
was by Marvin Flavin, a prison play . . . I'll think of its 
name in a moment [ The Criminal Code ] . It was a very, very 
well-done play and really precluded another play on the same 
subject. 

But my play had to do with my uncle, and this is some- 
thing I've forgotten. In my freshman year an uncle of mine, 
an uncle by marriage, was arrested and charged with robbery — 
actually, the holdup of a truck with furs in it, an armed 
holdup. And [for] this crime, as charged under the laws 
of New York -State at that time, he could receive from 



92 



fifteen to thirty years although it was a first arrest. 
He was a small, not too pleasant, not well-educated, very 
violent-tempered man who had been a shoe salesman. During 
the Prohibition period he became a small bootlegger, and I 
expect he earned a little more money being a bootlegger 
than he had as a shoe salesman. Just what his bootlegging 
activities were, whether he ran liquor or what he did, I 
never knew. But I judged by what came out in the course of 
this trial and what I heard later that he became involved 
in a scheme that someone had where they would be able to 
ship bootleg liquor as though it were paint or turpentine, 
which would make it easier for them to distribute. But in 
order to set up the plant that they needed to do this they 
needed cash, and this holdup was the result. 

It was my impression--! attended the trial, and I did 
so really out of compassion for his wife, who was my aunt, 
who was a sweet (and I mentioned her in the first tape) , 
somewhat retarded woman. It was my impression that this 
uncle — his name was Charles, I don't even remember his 
last name- -probably was involved in receiving the stolen 
goods and in planning the robbery. I don't think he was 
in on the holdup. But what happened when detectives came 
to his home and wanted to enter his garage was that he tried 
to bluff them out of it by saying, "VJhat the hell do you 
think you're doing?" and so on and so forth, and was very 



93 



insulting to them. And they said to themselves, "All 
right, you want to act like that. . ." and they hung the 
holdup rap on him as well. They just testified that he was 
one of the men in the car. That may not be true, but I 
got that strong impression out of the trial, out of what 
his wife said, and out of such other things. 

During the course of the trial something that made me 
sympathetic to him was that I began to notice the behavior 
on the part of the defense attorney which I didn't understand, 
For instance, when my uncle was on the stand or when he was 
delivering his summation to the jury, he pointed to my uncle 
and he said, "Now look at that mug face. Could you ever for- 
get a face like that?" And he was using this, as it were, 
to present the innocence of ray uncle, but in fact it was 
casting an unpleasant light upon him. And in fact, he did 
not have a mug face; he didn't have a particularly handsome 
face, but it wasn't a face that one would say, "Oh, look at 
that thug." It wasn't that kind of a face at all. I said, 
"Why is he saying this?" Subsequently I was told — and this 
again is lost in the mist of time, but it is something I've 
remembered as believing it to be true--that the man behind 
the whole operation, and the one who had suggested the hold- 
up, was a well-to-do crook who lived on Riverside Drive, who 
never was the one to carry out any action, who never got in 
trouble, and, in this case, was apparently ready to have 



94 



these men go up to prison in order to save his own skin. 
This was my impression. Now, this may have been just a 
myth, but that was why the defense attorney was behaving 
in the way he did. 

In any instance they were held guilty, and my uncle was 
given fifteen years and sent to Sing Sing. All through 
college and for years afterwards, about once a month I used 
to go visit him. And it was this story that I wanted to 
deal with in the play. Hatcher Hughes suggested that I now 
go into something else. 

Going up to Sing Sing, as I did over the years, added 
a certain little dimension to my understanding of society. 
I remember the Saturday morning train (that wasn't the one 
I always took) , but it was distinguished by the fact that 
women and children would be packing it. That was the day 
when kids were not in school, that was the day when working 
mothers might be able to go. And you'd see them come out 
of the poorer sections of New York--at that time not many 
blacks; they were the ethnic groupings of New York, the 
white ethnic groupings. At that time there was a rather 
advanced, progressive thinker in charge of Sing Sing, 
Warden Lawes , The waiting room at Sing Sing was a pleasant 
room; there were little open cubicles in which four people 
could sit for a visit. I would see how women would go 
into a restroom and come back, and it was noticeable that 



95 



they had taken off their corsets. And you would see a 
man in the course of a conversation with a woman lean over 
facing her as though to whisper something in her ear, but 
she might move her coat a little bit so that he could slip 
[his] hand behind the protection, the visible protection 
of her coat, in order to put his hand on her body. And there 
was tremendous pathos in that. My uncle was for a good 
deal of the time in what was called the old cell block, which 
was right along the Hudson River. And he said that the 
moment they came into the cells, from wherever they were 
outside, you had to wrap yourself in your blanket or else 
you would be stiff by morning from the damp. The damp 
water ran down the cell wall. 

During those years, from time to time he would ask me 
to go on errands that might help him get out, and I would 
do that. Once I went up to Syracuse, New York, to find a 
man who worked in a certain plant, and at various times I 
hired various lawyers with sums that I saved from my own 
allowance. I might say that my father had turned completely 
against him, although he was supporting his wife and child, 
because at one point before this robbery, when my father 
was out of town, my uncle had had a meeting in his office, 
in my father's office. He had access to the office, being 
a member of the family; he could walk in and the secretaries 
knew him. But apparently he brought together some of his 



96 



henchmen and had a meeting there, and my father was out- 
raged because, he said, he could have gotten him into 
trouble, and refused to have anything to do with him, and 
nobody else in the family saw him. So I just went on seeing 
him out of this sense of compassion. And so I spent some 
money on this lawyer and that lawyer (they never did any- 
thing) , and, I remember, once went way the heck out in Brook- 
lyn to see somebody and asked him some questions . And 
this man just looked at me with a stone face, and he said, 
"I don't know. I don't know nothin', don't know nothin'." 
And I turned around and went back the hour and a half, 
[laughter] It was that kind of thing. My uncle finally 
got out of prison around 19 35, which means that he was in-- 
I guess he was let out after about nine years out of his 
fifteen-year sentence. And I let him have an automobile I 
had then. I think that was the last time I saw him. A few 
years later he died. 

But in that last year of college I also wrote a novel. 
It was--oh, it's not important what it was about, a cer- 
tain fantasy base, but one thing I remember and which gives 
some insight about myself: I had a very savage portrayal of 
a lynching, to express my horror at this. So it means that 
about that time, by that time in my life, I not only had 
a pacifist conviction about war, but I had deep hatred for 
that type of merciless behavior on the part of mostly white 



97 



southerners -- not only white southerners — toward blacks. 
GARDNER: Well, and judging from that and also from the 
theme of the prison play, there's a consciousness of in- 
justice at this point. 

MALTZ : Yes. By this time there's a real consciousness of 
injustice, and wherever I met injustice, wherever I saw it 
in my limited knowledge of society, I revolted against it 
just automatically, as though I were touching a hot stove. 
I 'm sure that if I had had a more rounded college education, 
let's say if I had taken some history, if I had taken some 
other courses which would have opened the current world to 
me, I would have been much more advanced in this area. But 
since I was so locked into philosophy, I didn't. And during 
this year, the last year, and with my deep interest in 
playwriting and my growing interest in writing of all kinds, 
I got the idea, because I found out about it, of trying to 
go to the Yale School of Drama. And since at that time in 
my life my father could afford that, and since he was an in- 
dulgent man in the sense that he knew that I had always done 
well in school, and if I wanted to go on to something like 
that (although he would have preferred me to go into law) , 
he was willing to take a ride on it. Maybe I could do some- 
thing, because I hadn't disappointed them in other areas. 
GARDNER: Is there anyone at this point who--forgive me for 
interrupting ... 



98 



MALTZ : No, that's all right. 

GARDNER: . . . who you could look on as a literary source or 
influence? I mean, by this time, obviously you were reading 
quite a bit, you were interested in playwriting--was there 
a playwright whose work affected you? 

MALTZ: Well, I don't know yet. Oh, I would say by the third 
year, by the end of my third year in college, I not only 
was starting to go to theater when I could, but there was a 
period in spring after you took your exams and before the 
grades came through that you had to stick around. It was 
about a week, and I would go down every day to Broadway and 
see plays. I remember going to the Theatre Guild and seeing 
some wonderful plays. It was a great institution then. I 
remember seeing Pirandello's "Right You are If You Think So,"* 
with Edward Robinson playing the lawyer, a young lawyer I 
think he was, a notary--a marvelous performance on his part 
(even though he lied about me years later before the committee) . 
And that was tremendously exciting to me, tremendously. I 
remember going with my friend Beryl Levy [to] , I believe it 
was, Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra , which was 
about a five-hour play, and going out and having dinner in 
between. That was so enormously exciting. I don't know at 
what point various influences came in. I do know, for instance, 
that Strindberg, who was an important playwriting influence, 
I didn't learn about till I was in drama school. At what 



* Right You Are If You Think You Are 

99 



point Andreyev, who was one of my important influences — 
at what point I read him I don't remember; it may have been 
while I was still in college. There was a particular book, 
The Seven Who Were Hanged — do you know it at all?--that in- 
fluenced me very greatly. I felt, gee, this is the way I 
would like to write. Another man who was an influence on 
me was Liam 'Flaherty , who has remained an important writer 
to me and I think a writer who should have gotten a Nobel 
Prize in light of other writers who have received the Nobel 
Prize. Galsworthy's short stories and plays were an in- 
fluence — not his novels--but he's a marvelous, marvelous 
short-story writer, and those influenced me. I guess it was 
still later that Gorky's short stories played a role. But 
as I look back upon the early influences, it was really 
Andreyev and 'Flaherty — was it 'Flaherty as early as 
that? Maybe not, maybe a little later — I think Galsworthy, 
O'Neill somewhat, as a playwright somewhat, Strindberg and 
Ibsen, I'd say, more, and Andre Malraux in Man's Fate . But 
my passion for writing had grown to such an extent that I 
was able to write a novel that was about--I think it was 
about 250 pages, during I think practically my final semester, 
one semester while carrying on all other things and getting 
A's and preparing for an oral exam in philosophy, which I 
took. So I guess I was full of steam at that time. And 
then I think that about finishes off college. I guess I must 



100 



have spent the suiTimer--again I don't remember where I was 
that summer, but I'm sure that I must have spent it in writing. 
Oh yes, in order to get into the Yale Drama School, you had 
to submit a one-act play, and I wrote a play and was accepted. 
GARDNER: What was the play? 

MALTZ: I don't know what the play was. Alas, I threw away 
all that earlier writing. To my great regret. I would be 
so interested to be able to see it now. But at a given 
point a few years later I thought, you know, it's all junk, 
and I didn't have the sense that when I was older I might 
find it interesting, and I didn't have anyone to advise me, 
and that was that. So I tossed it away. And I think maybe 
at this point we might end our session. 
GARDNER: And pick up again in New Haven. 
MALTZ: And pick up again in New Haven. 

SECOND PART AUGUST 12, 19 76 

GARDNER: Now, at the end of the last tape, or the last 
session, as the transcriber knows, we said we'd resiome in 
New Haven. 

MALTZ: Yes, and that's where we will. The Yale School of the 
Drama, which was its official name (I always refer to it as the 
Drama School) , was established by George Pierce Baker, who pre- 
viously had been at Harvard for some years, where he established 
the celebrated 47 Workshop, which was a workshop in playwriting. 



101 



And two of the most distinguished students he had in Har- 
vard were Eugene O'Neill, and a second never proved to be 
a playwright--Thomas Wolfe. He found his strength elsewhere. 
Baker, as I recall, wanted Harvard to provide him with a 
whole theater so that students could not only study playwrit- 
ing, but even if their purpose was to become playwrights, that 
they would have a knowledge of directing and of the other as- 
pects of theater, lighting for instance (to know something 
about lighting is not unimportant for a playwright in the 
period of dress rehearsals when he can make his own sug- 
gestions on lighting) , and to know something about scene de- 
sign, know something about costumes. And Harvard didn't 
want to put up the money, as I understand it, but Yale offered 
to do so and he came to Yale. 

I don't know exactly what year it was he came to Yale. 
I think the school was moderately new when I came there in 
1930, the fall of 1930, perhaps it was about five years old, 
maybe somewhat more, I'm not sure. It had a student body 
of about 200, I think at that time, and to my best recollec- 
tion, about 20 percent were women. It was a perfectly 
splendid school. The faculty was very, very good in all 
departments, and everyone on the faculty was in earnest and 
wanted to give all that could be given to the students. The 
atmosphere was serious and in earnest; hard work was ex- 
pected and hard work was given. The departments included 



102 



everything except acting, although plays were put on there. 
There was playwriting, directing, speech and dialects (which 
of course is an aspect of acting), costumes, lighting, set 
design. And the actual history of the drama school is one 
in which an immense number of men and women who have been 
prominent in the theater, and successful in the theater and 
also in film, for the last forty-five years have been gradu- 
ates of the Yale School of the Drama. Now, that was not the 
only drama school in the United States. There was one at 
Pittsburgh that was quite good, as I understand it, and 
good people came out of it. But there was just an over- 
whelming majority of people in the Broadway theater, and 
also people teaching at universities, heading up departments 
of drama, who came through the Yale Drama School. 

George Pierce Baker, I might just comment for a moment 
on, was a man from Boston and a man of great personal re- 
serve, who had a dry wit, was certainly by present standards 
(but even by standards such as I had at the time) rather 
prissy concerning language in plays, but was a man with a 
very great feel for the theater. [He] was an excellent 
teacher, was very honest in his approach to students and 
was certainly very liberal about ideas in theater, even though 
he himself might have been, let's say, a rather conservative 
guy. He was, I think, probably about fifty-five or perhaps 
even sixty when I was a student there. I certainly learned 



103 



from him, but I think I learned even--and I learned from 
him not only from. ... Oh , I think I might pause to say 
that in the first year our class perhaps numbered about 
thirty, and there were students attending the classes on 
playwriting whose main interest was directing, but they 
were allowed to attend. And one of the things that we did 
was to read and study a very good book he had written on 
playwriting, which, if one were to read today, the majority 
of playwrights he referred to in his illustrations and whose 
work he gave are not only dead, but their names would not 
even be known today. Because he was naturally drawing on 
the theater as he had known it, which meant from, let's say, 
playwrights (aside from classic playwrights like Ibsen and 
Strindberg) , more current playwrights like Arthur Wing 
Pinero, who was to him a very living playwright. So he was 
giving illustrations from plays of 1890, 1900, 1910, and 
so on. But his book on playwriting was I think a superb 
one. I don't recall his giving particular lectures; he 
might have at the beginning of the course, but I don't 
remember that. 

But his main mode of teaching was to read aloud a 
play by one of the students at each session, and then have 
the students comment on that play and then sum up his own 
comments. Now, that had great value, [and] it was some- 
thing that I followed later when I taught myself. It had 



104 



great value because one of the very important things for 
a writer is to develop his own critical faculties toward 
his own work. The tendency when one begins, and if you 
write something with some enthusiasm, you may feel that 
it's absolutely great (if you don't feel that it's absolutely 
rotten), but there isn't real perspective. And listening 
to the plays of someone else, making your comments, listen- 
ing to the comments of other students, then hearing Baker's 
comments was a slow process, because it can't come quickly, 
by which you began to develop a self-critical faculty. It's 
possible for me now, let's say, to reread a scene or a chap- 
ter I have written, and while not being 100 percent perfect 
in what I do, to say, "Oh, this is too long here. It lacks 
a core of drama at this place." I can see things about my 
own work that I was utterly unable to see when I was beginning 

In some ways I learned more about playwriting, however, 
from the instructor in directing, whose name was Alexander 
Dean. Because in dealing with directing he inevitably 
touched on aspects of playwriting; in dealing in the way in 
which a director could build tension in a scene by the way 
he handled his actors, he was dealing with the ways in which 
writers could improve their work. He dealt with such im- 
portant questions as to the nature of a villain. For in- 
stance, if a villain is just a coarse heavy, in the way 
that we've seen it in so many Hollywood films, he's much less 



105 



interesting than if he is a person of intelligence, of 
aspects that are admirable, but at the same time has with- 
in him a drive that results in his villainy. He becomes 
more human, he becomes more interesting, and the entire 
drama is raised up on a much higher plane just because your 
villain is not the conventional heavy. 

Questions like this began to occupy my thoughts very 
much because they're really philosophical questions about 
aspects of the drama. Aristotle's Poetics , which I first 
read in college, began to come back, and now in terms of 
practical drama and not merely the theory of drama. For 
instance, the question of a fatal flaw in an otherwise high- 
minded character is one which takes one into the realm of 
tragedy. Such questions as the fact that you can mix light 
comedy and tragedy, or farce comedy and melodrama within the 
same play, were discussed, but that you cannot mix farce and 
tragedy--that 's impossible to do, they're too far a reach; 
the world of farce is too far away from reality. Now, as 
a matter of fact, I observed that over the years to be 
absolutely sound, and there's only one dramatic work that 
I've ever known that successfully breached that, and that 
was Charlie Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux , because he does go, 
in the same film, from farce to tragedy. I know of no other 
work that I 've ever read or seen in the theater, and no 
work in film, that did that. Those that have tried it have 



106 



floundered. [There were] many other such questions that 
by now I would have absorbed automatically, just as I can 
no longer, for instance, recite the rules of grammar which 
I once knew. If someone began to ask me about the sub- 
junctive, I really don't know what the subjunctive is--I 
think it involves the word if_ but I'm not sure--but I'm 
quite sure I use it correctly in the main. So in the same 
way, things that I was then studying I've long since in- 
corporated. I would have to stop and ponder to give 
further illustrations. I don't think there's any great 
point to it. 

I would mention two other people. Donald Oenslager, 
who was an extremely successful Broadway scene designer, 
taught set design up at school and would come up, I guess, 
for about two days a week, and this was an example of the 
caliber of the people. There was a lighting expert there 
who did various kinds of government projects at different 
times but taught lighting at the school. And John Mason 
Brown, the theater critic and lecturer, came up and gave 
a course of lectures while I was there. He was amusing but 
rather superficial. I was very interested later on to read 
that on D-Day, when American troops landed in France, John 
Mason Brown was on a battleship keeping up a steady report 
of the action to the men below decks who couldn't see what 
was going on, and apparently, at that he was simply marvelous 



107 



Interestingly, later, after the war he became an immensely 
popular lecturer around the country for women's clubs and 
so on. He was a very witty man. 

GARDNER: The training was very much technical, then, and 
disciplinary, wasn't it? 

MALTZ : Well, let's say, as someone who was majoring in play- 
writing, I also had some classes in costume, but not nearly 
as many, and in lighting and in set design. I remember I had 
to draw up some sets and so on. Particularly, there was 
practical work when a play was put on. There were plays that 
were put on just for the student group and the faculty in a 
little theater that was down there, and that was for work- 
shop purposes. For instance, I remember one of the things 
that we learned was to distinguish between writing, acting, 
and directing when we saw a play. I can do now what I 
remember doing there on one exam, saying the directing was 
fine but the play was not good. Because you don't usually 
find that, for instance, among critics. They usually say, 
well, the directing was great, and for all you know, often 
they're referring to something that was already in the 
script, say, a movie script. But it is possible to make 
those distinctions . 

We would have that kind of play put on, but then we also 
put on plays for the public. They would run about four or 
five nights, and there was a subscription audience that 



108 



came to them; I think they came free, but they had to be 
on a list. And those either were classics or the best 
plays that were done by students. And for that we had 
sets and costumes and so on; if it was my turn to be on 
the set crew, I was involved in building the sets, and then 
in managing them backstage, in changing sets and so on. Or 
in costumes: I remember once working, ironing for many 
hours on a new type of costume that was being tried for a 
Shakespearean play where they wanted to try the experiment 
of having very heavy canvas costumes and changing the colors 
of the costumes by changing lights. And so I was always 
ironing heavy wet canvas by the hour. And then I acted in 
a play or two, and all of this totality of experience was 
useful in making one a total person of the theater. Am I 
going at too great length in here? 

GARDNER: No, not at all. I'm fascinated by the depths in 
which you were trained. I think that's really interesting. 
MALTZ : Yes, it was a total immersion in the theater. One 
aspect of life up there for me was reading of plays. I read 
voraciously, and this meant early hours, less sleep, and 
so on. But I started with Ibsen, and I don't know whether 
anything of Strindberg's was assigned to us in the course, 
but I found Strindberg most impressive. I read everything 
that I got my hands on (there was a fine drama library 
there): all of Ibsen, all of O'Neill. And although our 



109 



basic orientation was to the Ibsen-Eugene O'Neill school 
of writing and the well-made play, let's say, the well- 
made three-act play, more or less, there was considerable 
interest on the part of certain of the students, myself 
included, in German impressionism and expressionism as it 
had exploded after World War I in the 1920s. A play like 
Ernst Toller's Masse Mensch meant a great deal to us. Georg 
Kaiser's — was it From Morn to Midnight ? I think, I'm not 
sure--meant a great deal, and as a matter of fact, reflected 
itself in the second play that George Sklar and I wrote, 
though I'll come to that later. 

GARDNER: Did you know Brecht's work at all at that point? 
MALTZ: No. I had seen a play of Brecht's in Berlin in '29. 
Did I mention that in talking about it? 
GARDNER: No, you didn't. 

MALTZ: Well, when I was in Germany on that trip to Europe, 
I saw The Threepenny Opera . I didn't know German, but the 
production interested me very much, and I brought home a set 
of records, seventy-eight [RPM] records, which I played. 
George Sklar and I, after we were collaborating, just played 
it to the point where I think we wore holes in it; it was 
unplayable afterwards. And we were very interested in that 
music. But there was no Brecht studied at--he was not a 
name at all, you see. He was really not a name in the 
United States until after World War II, when he went back 



110 



[to East Berlin] . And by the way--do you want to shut off 
a second? I'll ask you a technical question, [tape recorder 
turned off] 

I had a flash thought to something that occurred to me: 
when I came to Mexico to live and discovered Mexican art, not 
only contemporary art but of course the art of centuries 
back, which was so rich and old, I realized that I had taken 
one year in the history of art when I was at Columbia. We 
had Greek art and Roman art and Egyptian art and a little bit 
of the art, I guess, of India, perhaps of China, I don't 
remember, and then went through all of European art from 
early Christian art on, up to modern art. But Mexican art 
was not even mentioned. And here was Mexico, contiguous 
with the United States, physically, and absolutely not one 
word about Mexican art in the year 1929, say, which is a 
fascinating . . • 
GARDNER: It really is. 

MALTZ : . . . fascinating thing to realize. And as a matter 
of fact, the Spanish that I took there was the theta Spanish, 
the classical Spanish of Spain; it was not Spanish as it's 
spoken in Mexico, which of course now would serve people much 
better if they knew that. Anyway. . . . 

GARDNER: But I think that--this is a curious aside — but I 
think that that's probably still true most places. 
MALTZ: Oh, that they teach theta? 



Ill 



GARDNER: Outside of the West, Southwest. I suspect most 
universities teach the Castilian. 

MALTZ : Castilian, yes. I was thinking of the word. I 
suppose that may be true. However, Castilian and Mexican 
Spanish can understand each other without any problem. And 
later, I don't want to forget to tell about how I spoke 
in Israel with people who were speaking Ladino. 

One of the things that I discovered and advised students 
ever since, and it would be true for film as well as the 
theater, is that if I came upon a playwright, like O'Neill, 
who is impressive, or Strindberg, it was very good to take 
one play that I liked, and having read it through and know- 
ing the story, to read it a second time and a third time 
and a fourth time. Because then, after you knew the story 
and felt the emotion, you began to see how he got his effects. 
It was as though you, I don't know--as though you looked 
under the hood of a car for the first time, and then took a 
carburetor and took it apart, and you began to say, "Oh, this 
is what it does!" For instance O'Neill had a technical device 
(in the best sense, nothing derogatory in my saying that) which 
he used to use often: he would have a long line of suspense, 
and then a sudden surprise that led to another line of 
suspense. Now, surprise is a very effective device in the 
theater: it shakes one up, it shocks one, it comes . . . well, 
it's a surprise. 



112 



TAPE NUMBER: III, SIDE TWO 
AUGUST 12, 1976 

MALTZ : I was saying that surprise is the effect of a 
moment and has its important uses in theater or film. 
But it is never to be substituted for suspense if there 
has to be a choice between them, because suspense is 
what can keep you on the edge of your seat for a sequence 
or an act, and surprise, as I said, is of the moment. 

Now, I remember when I was teaching I would try to 
impress my students with the importance of suspense 
through various illustrations. And one of them was this: 
I'd say, supposing you raise a curtain and a man and wife 
come into an apartment and sit down to talk about a play 
that they've just seen, an experience they've just had 
together, and they just chitchat about it, and the audience 
will sit there waiting for something to happen. Or, if 
they disliked it, they will say it is too talky. You 
often read critics saying a film was too talky, a play was 
too talky. Well, they really don't know what they're 
talking about because all theater is talk. That's what 
theater is — it's talk. How much actual physical action 
do you have in the theater? You have more in film. We 
have a car chase in a film; you can have no talk, and you 
can just have autos chasing each other, and it can be 



113 



suspenseful . But in theater you might have an occasional 
fight that would last, faking, half a minute, but that's 
all. It's talk. But the difference between a play that 
they say is too talky and a play that is not too talky is 
that the one that is not too talky has drama in it, and 
conflict, and suspense, and you find it interesting, there- 
fore you say it isn't talky. Talky means the absence of 
any suspense. 

To go back to the illustration I made: if you have 
two people talking about the fact that, let's say, they 
took a walk in the park, and they saw a bird of a certain 
color, and they thought it was beautiful, and then they 
saw a squirrel and got that squirrel to come over and take 
some peanuts, and then they watched some children on a 
bicycle, and after a while you say, "Hey, this isn't why 
I paid my money to come to the theater." But supposing 
before they come home you see a window open, and a masked 
man with a revolver in his hand steps through the window 
with a flashlight and begins to look around and take things 
out of drawers or examine drawers to see what he can take. 
And suddenly the door starts to open and he has no chance 
to get out, and he just hides right behind the sofa, and the 
two people come in and sit down on the sofa. And then they 
begin to talk about the bird and the boy and the squirrel, 
and you're on the edge of your seat. That's the difference 



114 



between suspense and no suspense in a play. You have to 
have that suspenseful thing going for you, and then you 
can characterize and you can give exposition and so on. 

I might add, since it comes to my mind, that such 
things were taken up in directing like the "strengths" 
of various parts of a stage. If there are characters in 
the center of a stage, one's eye goes to them more than [to] 
characters on either side. But you can't keep your people 
in the center of the stage at all times because it would get 
visually boring, and you have to move them around. And so 
there are all sorts of skills, all sorts of knowledge involved, 
in how you make the stage fluid: when should you have some- 
thing concentrated in the center stage, when should you 
have it stage left and stage right, or backstage center, or 
backstage right, or backstage left. [There are] all sorts 
of questions, as: Do you say the line first? Or, do you 
hand the knife to the person first? Which is the more dra- 
matic? There 're all sorts of technical questions like this, 
and all of them are part of what a good director knows when 
he directs. 

The first play that I wrote was a one-act play, and I 
learned a lesson from that that I've never forgotten. I 
thought the play was a wonderful one when I gave it to Mr. 
Baker to read, and he only said one thing to me: he said, 
"You know, Mr. Maltz, it's very easy to write empty symbolism." 



115 



And I thought it over, and he was right; I was trying to 
do something that was important and impressive, but I really 
didn't know what I was trying to say. I had nothing clear 
that I could state, and that's what it was--it was empty 
symbolism. It reminds me so much of some of the plays of 
this period where I think authors have been given license 
to think they're writing well when they're really writing 
very obscurely. When I sit in the theater and I cannot 
understand what a play is about, and when there are some- 
times great symbols in it, as in — I think it is lonesco's 
Caligula , I'm not sure what it is. . . . 
GARDNER: No, Camus did Caligula . 

MALTZ: Is it Camus 's Caligula ? Yes, I think this is 
being done as a film now with Vidal doing the screenplay. 
All I can say is I saw it in a theater in New York, and I 
didn't know what the devil it was about and it bored me. 
To take another kind of thing which is comparable, the 
marvelous, the poet who. . . . Robinson Jef f ers--what is the 
vehicle that Judith Anderson played in so much? It has 
a Greek name .... 
GARDNER: I've forgotten. 
MALTZ; Is it the Sophocles play? 
GARDNER: Antigone , is that it? 

MALTZ: No, it isn't Antigone . It's the play where her 
children. . . . 



116 



GARDNER: Medea . 

MALTZ : >^ edea . . . are taken from her. Now, that is marvelous 
poetry, marvelous drama, and marvelously clear — the opposite 
of one of the others. But I think that we have seen so much 
empty symbolism in a great deal of modern painting and in a 
great deal of modern sculpture, and I have never perceived 
it as a value. This goes way back, and I just haven't 
changed in that area. 

One aspect of life at Yale was that it was my first 
knowing encounter with homosexuality. A rather significant 
portion of the excellent faculty and a significant minority 
of the students were homosexuals. Now, homosexuality has 
rather a long, acceptable history in the theater, and some 
of our finest theater people — actors, directors, producers-- 
have been homosexual. And the attitude of people within 
the theater has been much more accepting of sexual life-style 
that isn't the majority style than the rest of society. I 
know that in the thirties, when one found this in the 
theater or one found this at Yale, the attitude that I had 
would have been very different from the attitude of most 
American men. And I didn't have the derisive attitude that, 
let's say, average American men would have had towards homo- 
sexuals — not, I think, because I had at that time any 
greater understanding of the nature of homosexuality, as the 
fact that I had come so immediately to respect the integrity. 



117 



the teaching abilities, the intelligence, the knowledge of 
these men on the faculty, say. 

And then in retrospect I realized that the teacher who 
had given me so much, and whom I admired so much, at 
Columbia College, Irwin Edman, also had been a homosexual. 
Because there had been an incident once, when I was at his 
apartment for my seminar on Santayana, that I didn't under- 
stand at the time. He asked me to wait while he got into 
bed and said that I could put out the light for him. We were 
friends by that time, and if another friend had asked me that, 
I would have said, "Well, he wants that; fine, I'll do it." 
But then there were some overtones. There was nothing that 
he attempted to do physically, but I kind of just sensed 
vibrations that I didn't understand but that made me uncom- 
fortable. But when I got to Yale I realized that this man 
must have been a homosexual, although nothing was ever said 
on the campus about it (because I 'm sure he was very dis- 
creet) , and that he never in any way did anything but set a 
situation where, if he were dealing with a student who was 
homosexual, something would have happened. But since I 
didn't know what a homosexual was at that time, why. . . . 
You see, it's a laughing matter now because anyone of col- 
lege age is hep to that in our society, but it wasn't so at 
that time. There may have been any number of students 
around who were homosexual. I didn't know it, and I never 



118 



heard any conversation about it. And there were never any 
jokes about it; it just didn't exist in that society. And 
I 'm sure that if I had said to my father that someone was a 
homosexual, he wouldn't have known what it was, simply 
wouldn't have known. 

It was a very different aspect in the society at that 
time, so that when I met it at Yale, it was being confronted 
by a completely new phenomenon. And all I know is that it 
never lessened my respect for those teachers who were homo- 
sexuals, or I don't know whether I had. . . . You know, I 
was friendly with students there who were homosexual, with 
some lesbians, but I guess none of them were any particular 
close friends of mine. I lived off campus, as everyone did 
(there were no dormitories for people of the Yale school) , 
and we who went to the Yale school were so heavily engaged 
in our work that we had no contact with the rest of the uni- 
versity at all. We were encapsulated in that one building 
which was the theater, and then we had rooms wherever we 
had them. 

I had there, I think, my first encounter with people 
who were concerned about family. I believe that in fact 
when I was in college, my roommate. Beryl Levy, gave me 
some information that I had simply not known: that German 
Jews had looked down upon Jews of Polish or Russian origin, 
or other East European, and that Sephardic Jews in their 



119 



turn had looked down upon Germans, and I had simply not known 
anything about this. But now I met something else. 

There was a girl I got a crush on, and had a tender and 
affectionate friendship with for a number of years, who was 
a very sweet girl but automatically carried with her the 
attitude of the long Boston line from which she came of 
saying about someone else (not someone like myself, but some- 
one else from Boston), "Oh, she has no family." And I'd 
never met this in my life before. I'd never heard my parents 
or anyone else talk about the importance of lineage. Now, 
this lineage didn't make this nice, sweet, very attractive 
girl any more intelligent than she was, or any more learned 
than she wasn't, but family was important to her and eminently 
important to her family. And that was very interesting to me. 

I had a good many friends at Yale, but I'm not going 
to mention them because they proved not to be lasting friends, 
and not in the sense that I didn't--! kept up with some of 
them for a number of years after I left Yale, but my life went 
in a different direction. I was not in close contact with 
them physically in any way, that is, I didn't live in the 
same city. And it's all forty-five years ago, and there's 
no particular reason to go into it. But I would speak of 
several who remain in the picture. 

One is George Sklar, who is my oldest friend, and our 
lives have been together, really, ever since we came together 



120 



and started to write together in the fall of 1931, We 
not only collaborated together on several plays but when 
we came down to New York we lived in the same apartment 
house. Later, when he married and I married, we were 
a foursome of friends. I drove--he doesn't drive a car-- 
and I drove two of his children to be born. The children 
are to me somewhat surrogate children of mine; he has 
three, he and his wife. And we've been close down the 
years and remain so. George came from a family in Meriden, 
Connecticut, which was a factory town, and his father was a 
factory worker for quite some years, I believe, in a factory 
that was making umbrellas for a while, but then it turned 
to munitions during World War I . Subsequently, he and his 
wife opened a sporting-goods store, and it was a kind of a 
hanging-out place for the men of town who would come in 
there to get their things for fishing or their ammunition for 
hunting, and would stay around swapping stories. And very 
interestingly, after his father died (he died when he was 
rather young), his mother carried on the store by herself. 
There was many a man in the town who came to unload his 
troubles to this foreign-born Jewish woman, speaking with a 
considerable accent, but the center of an entire circle of 
townspeople. It was very delightful. 

A second friend there was Elia Kazan, who got the 
nickname "Gadget" there, as I recall, given by a mutual 



121 



friend, because Kazan was very handy with his hands, and 
when making sets, he would always have a tool there or 
something, and he was called Gadget. That's my recol- 
lection of it. I think he may have come here either as 
an infant from Turkey (his family was Greek) or else he 
was born here, but he knew from his family of the very harsh 
treatment of Greeks which he embodied in his later film, 
America, America . He was never an intimate friend of mine 
at Yale, but we were very cordial friends and remained so 
in later years. Until the time that he became an informer, 
and of course [our friendship] ended. 

He was a very interesting man. He had a capacity for 
what I would call powerful silence. He could be with 
others and talk very little — not that he wasn't capable of 
considerable talk when he was so minded, but one would feel 
his presence very much even though he was silent. [He was 
a] very intense-looking man, not conventionally good looking 
in any way, great intensity. It perhaps didn't surprise me 
when, after the first summer away, we came back the second 
year, he asked me to read a play he had written over the 
summer, although he was there to study directing. And 
when I read it, the amount of violence in the play was 
simply appalling. We're getting a great deal of violence 
in films now, but this was in a different period, and it 
would hold a candle to the most violent things that you 



122 



could see nowadays. I think it was an example of some of 
what was inside of him. 

A third man with whom I was quite friendly and who 
had come down--he had been at college at Williams with 
Kazan--was Alan Baxter, who was an actor. And I mention 
him because he took the lead in a play of mine (I'll remark 
on that later) , and he was a man I liked very much who had 
a great deal troubling him inside. As for others, I'll men- 
tion one or two others when they come up in turn, but I 
won't go into them. 

During this time I had a growing social awareness, 
although not the time to read a good deal much about it. The 
Depression, of course, was becoming more and more acute. 
I'm quite sure I was reading the papers, newspapers, again, 
but rather intermittently, I imagine. I don't remember, 
without looking it up, just at what point Japan began its 
incursions into China, into Manchuria, into Shanghai. I 
think it was later. But I know that I was very outraged 
by that. And some time along in this period I think I 
started to read intermittently the Nation and the New 
Republic . 

I don't remember whether it was in the spring of '32 
or not until the fall semester, but I think it was the 
spring, I was invited, I don't know in what way, to the home 
of an attorney by the name of Charles Recht. He lived in 



123 



Larchmont or someplace like that, and that was a Sunday 
and there must have been about, oh, thirty young people 
there. For all I know, maybe I was invited by somebody 
who was a member of a Young Communist League and I didn't 
know it, something like that. This attorney, as I learned 
later, was a foreign-born man but very well spoken--! should 
say and very well spoken--was a civil liberties lawyer, not 
acting for the [American] Civil Liberties Union, but he took 
civil liberties cases, a good many of them labor cases. 

And I just have the impression of that Sunday after- 
noon in his home as being kind of a small earthquake for me 
because he put very salient and pointed questions to us, 
shaking us out of accepted grooves of thought, challenging 
us, I'm sure, with left postulates and things out of Marx, 
and referring, I suppose, to the Soviet Union. I don't 
remember particulars, but I know that it had a kind of radi- 
calizing effect upon me just in one afternoon. It changed 
me, it made me begin to search with different eyes and with 
different ears and a certain different perspective from then 
on. And that's all I remember, but it's worth mentioning 
because sometimes one meeting with one individual can have 
a very profound effect, and this did for me. 
GARDNER: How did you then translate it into. . . ? 
MALTZ : I didn't translate it into any action; I was busy at 
school. But it affected my mode of thought and provided, I 



124 



think, a certain platform from which thought and reading 
proceeded thereafter. 

During this whole period, I, with friends, saw every 
opening of a play in New Haven, and it was one of the towns 
in which plays were brought for tryouts. And we also would 
take, I'd say, it might be a weekend a month, or a weekend 
every six weeks, that usually one friend and I, a man 
called Paul Scofield, would go down to New York, as I recall, 
on Friday and see a play. It might be Friday or it might 
be Saturday, but we'd see a play perhaps Friday night and 
Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, and come home Sunday 
morning, that kind of thing. And we'd always go to a speak- 
easy, usually the same one, because that was speakeasy time 
still, and it was a wonderful one which served venison. I 
found venison to be a great food, and it was always exciting 
to do the manly thing of going into a speakeasy and having 
a cocktail before dinner. 

GARDNER: What was the speakeasy called, do you remember? 
MALTZ: They were called--what, the name of it? They had 
no names, they just had addresses. As a matter of fact, my 
first acquaintanceship with speakeasies, not in terms of 
reading about them, of course, but in terms of going to one, 
was when I was in college. I couldn't wait as a freshman, 
as I recall, to go into a speakeasy, and I was so excited 
when I was admitted. I don't know as I went to many at that 



125 



time. But then when I was in Yale — I mean, I think after I 
had gone to a few in my freshman year, I never went to any 
again because I wasn't a drinker and there was no occasion 
for it. But when we were coming down from Yale, and my 
friend knew about this speakeasy where they served this 
delicious venison, it was just nice to go there and eat 
that before theater. 

Now, during this period I'm sure that I was — just like 
every other student of playwriting at school--if you're 
a serious writer and you undertake to write plays or novels 
or anything else, you naturally have the hope and fantasy 
of being a fine writer. You'd hope that you might turn out 
to have the gifts of an O'Neill or an Ibsen, and you don't 
know whether you will, but that fantasy is a very normal one, 
and you keep hoping that it will be true. I know that that 
was mine. Now, I think that's probably a description of my 
first year. 

In addition to the one-act play that I mentioned before, 
I must have begun a three-act play. I don't have any memory 
of a three-act play being read in that first year. I know 
that I handed in one when I came back in the fall, one that 
I worked on over the summer and perhaps I had begun in the 
spring, but I don't recall anymore. 

GARDNER: Do you recall what sort of themes you were deal- 
ing with? 



126 



MALTZ : Yes, they were very personal. The themes at 
that time were not in any way social themes, which is an 
indication of the limits to which my own social thinking 
had taken me, since my themes later were very social. I 
know that I returned in the fall of '31 with a full-length 
play that had to do with my family. Whether or not I 
had read Dostoyevsky 's The Brothers Karamazov shortly 
before or several years before, there were qualities of 
Brothers Karamazov that I believe were influencing my mood 
when I wrote this play. There's one line that I've never 
forgotten that one of the brothers says at one point. I 
think it is, "I must have justice done," or, "I must see 
justice." "I must have justice done," I think. And I know 
that that was in my mind, and it was not referring to social 
justice or political justice but was rather sort of moral 
justice, [sound interference--tape recorder turned off] 
And so it was concentration upon this personal thing. I 
think in. . . .[tape recorder turned off] So my writing was 
involved with a concentration upon the personal. 

I think I might mention here that I began to learn from 
my fellows something that I had not been aware of about 
myself--that I was considered an overserious young man. 
Now, I think that was certainly true, and it didn't mean 
that if somebody told a joke I wouldn't laugh, or that I 
didn't love the Marx Brothers, but that my general mien was 



127 



a very serious one--overserious , I would say--and it probably 
came [that way] from a number of factors. One was that there had 
been so much illness in my family on the part of my father, 
my mother's eyes, and so on, that life had kind of a grim 
aspect; the world seemed a kind of a dangerous and. . . . 
Oh, aligned with that, the psychological atmosphere of my 
family, as it influenced me, was one where the world was 
a dangerous place. So that there was a kind of tension in 
me, I think, that was just an underneath flow of current 
that caused a tightness. And I remember later, when I was 
in the Theatre Union, and the chief organizer of it was 
a man in his early forties, a World War I vet and vigorous, 
strong, full of laughter, when I found out he was about 
forty-three and I remembered my father at forty-three, it 
was an unbelievable shock. I didn't know that men of forty- 
three could be like that. I think of this in the light of 
a play that I was writing. It was a play about family 
tragedy and was a reflection of things within myself. 

That summer I had several out-of-town visits. I spent 
the summer in my home, Brooklyn. I went up to Provincetown, 
where my friend from Yale, Paul Scofield, was with his 
mother. His mother was an artist. And there I met Hans 
Hofmann, the artist, and some others around him, and I 
had the reaction then that I've had today. I've never 
changed. I don't take any pride in never changing in any 



128 



area, but I couldn't understand his painting, I didn't get 
any pleasure from it, I didn't get any ideas from it, I 
didn't get any visual enjoyment from it. As you see by the 
rugs here, I am enchanted with Navajo rugs. Now, these 
are just patterns, but the patterns of most nonobjective 
painting I don't find have the beauty of this. I find 
they're empty of visual beauty, empty of intellectual 
meaning, empty of representational quality, such as, say, 
that Modigliani there. Or empty of what I get in that 
still life up above, because I love still life too. I 
just have never been able to get anything from it. Nor 
have I been willing to concede that it has particular merit. 
George — not George--Charles White, the artist whose work 
is representational, explained to me in ways that I 
thought I understood why Picasso and Picasso's nonobjective 
painting meant a great deal to him, even though he himself 
is a representational painter. And he gave, as one illustra- 
tion, Joyce: that Joyce introduced for all writers the 
opportunity to do f ree-associational writing, and that 
even if you didn't practice it yourself, it changed all 
writing from then on. And so, he said, that was Picasso's 
contribution. And I understand that intellectually, but 
I don't see it. I love certain periods of Picasso's work — 
his Blue Period, Rose Period — but the three-headed, nonob- 
jective stuff I never have been able to fathom. (And I m.ight 



129 



say, since I just finished a piece of work on Modigliani, 
neither did he. Modigliani didn't. They were friends, 
well, they were kind of friendly enemies all the time, 
but Modigliani just didn't care for that stuff at all, 
which is interesting.) 

And I also had another little glimpse at what I would 
call those people who live a great deal with family tradition, 
because I went up to the summer home of the girl on whom I 
had a crush. This was their summer home in Maine, a very 
large, formal house, where her mother was not present but 
her father looked me over. And it was just a very, very 
interesting insight for me into quite a different world. 
I later married a woman whose family tree was as long, or 
longer, than theirs, but she came from a lower-middle-class 
family, so it was an entirely different kind of thing. 

The second year at Yale began in September ' 31 and 
actually ended prematurely sometime in March of '32 with, 
of course, the production of Merry Go Round , which I'll 
come to. Most of my friends of the first year had not re- 
turned to the school for the second year. And George Sklar, 
whom I had known but not been intimate with, we came together 
and began to see each other, and he was much more solidly 
aligned in his thinking and in his feeling with the 
American Left than I was. He had read a great deal more than 
I. He had firm opinions. And we used to discuss world 



130 



affairs and peace and war and so on. It was in this period 
that Japan was carrying out its brutal invasion of Manchuria 
and other sections of China. I reacted very intensely to 
this--as I would a few years later at Mussolini's rapacious 
conquest of Ethiopia. 

The course in playwriting now was around a round table 
with about fifteen students, twice a week, and very shortly 
after I came there, I believe, I gave my play (that I'd 
written in the summer and then did some rewriting on) to 
be read, and it was read in the class with a great deal of 
warm response. I was very excited by that, and one of the 
instructors in the school who had contacts with the Group 
Theatre took it down to them. I was very excited by that 
because the Group Theatre was a new theater under the leader- 
ship of Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Craw- 
ford, and I was very interested in what they were doing 
and had liked very much several of the plays that they had 
done (they had this fine group of actors, of course, whom 
they were developing) , but nothing came of that. As a matter 
of fact, I think they were already looking for more social 
materials . 

Early in October, which means within about five weeks 
after my school opened, I came back about one in the morning 
from something or other and found a special delivery letter 
that my father had had a stroke. And I left school for. 



131 



oh, I suppose about a week, during which time he began to 
make something of a recovery. He was able before I left 
to talk again and make movements. And so I was able to 
return to school. 

Sometime very early in November, I went to pick up 
George Sklar at the library, where he had a part-time job, 
at the main Yale library, to go to dinner with him. And he 
said, "While you're waiting, there's an article I just read 
in the New Republic that I'd like you to read." So I read 
it, and it was an expose of something that had happened in 
Cleveland. A young laborer had witnessed a gang killing. 
I don't recall whether the police had happened on the scene 
so quickly that they knew he had witnessed it, or whether 
he'd told the police what he had seen, and they wanted him 
to testify. They wanted him to testify about the murder. 
I think they kept him in jail as a material witness so that 
he wouldn't get hurt. But very shortly, the gangster in- 
volved in the killing revealed privately to I think the city 
officials that he would — now I may be mixing up what we 
did in the play with the truth — but the fact was that he 
revealed the connections between these gangsters and the 
city officials. So that the young man they had wanted to 
testify against the gangster would, if he now testified 
against the gangster, cause the administration great grief. 
And so he became an enemy of the administration, all in 



132 



his own innocence, and one morning was found hanged in his 
cell, an alleged suicide. 

When I came back to George and said, "Hey, I think 
there's a play," he said, "That's what I think." And we went 
to dinner and talked about it, walked home, and by the time 
we got back to, I guess, the area of the school, we had 
the broad outlines of a play. And we went right to work 
on it immediately. It went not easily, but rapidly. We 
worked very hard, while continuing in our classes, of 
course, and by around December tenth we had the main story 
in all its detail, the characters, and the first act written. 
And then I had to leave because it was urged upon my father 
that he take a sea trip and go elsewhere, for him to go 
to Los Angeles by boat through the canal, and with my mother 
and with a nurse, and it was very desirable that I accompany 
him. My father, as a result of the stroke, was in a very 
bad psychological state--all sorts of tensions, dissatis- 
factions, and great tension between him and my mother--and 
it was felt that I could be of help if I were there. And so 
I went and I took with me the outline that we had. I don't 
remember what the trip was, whether it was a ten-day trip 
or a two-week trip at that time, from New York, first to 
Havana, then to Panama City, and I had a day in each city, 
walking around — and then around up the coast to Los Angeles. 
But during the ten days, working at night when my father 



133 



was asleep and other times during the day when he was 
alseep, I did the two acts and mailed them off to George 



134 



TAPE NUMBER: IV, SIDE ONE 
AUGUST 12, 19 76 

GARDNER: I had just asked, as the tape ran out, what the 
nature of your collaboration with George Sklar was. [tape 
recorder turned off] Okay? 

MALTZ : George and I collaborated in the following way: 
we sat together and we thought out every idea together. 
That means we discussed and we also argued. And as I 
look back upon it, sometimes it was really very childish 
of us, because let's say if I said, "Well, Joe should say, 
'yes, '" and he'd say, "No, I think he should say 'uh-huh.'" 
I don't know whether we would do it today; I doubt it. I 
know I wouldn't, and I don't think he would either. It 
really made no difference if you said "uh-huh" or "yes." 
And if I were watching a play of George's and a man said, 
"uh-huh," I would find it acceptable; if he were watching 
a play by me and a man said, "yes," he would find it 
acceptable. But we were growing as writers, seeking to 
find our way of saying things, trying to mold our styles, 
and therefore we sometimes could spend a lot of time over 
a thing like that. It was waste time but, I suppose, 
necessary to us as persons. 

However, we got along well enough in this, or else 
we wouldn't have been able to do the play and do it as 
rapidly as we did. And so every line of dialogue, when 



135 



we were together, was worked out together. Of course, 
then when I sent back the two acts that I had done in 
first draft, George worked them over by himself, and then 
we came together and worked on them together. And that's 
frequently a way in which other collaborators work. One 
does a first draft and then they work together; or sometimes 
one does a draft of one act, another one drafts another 
act, and so on. But that was the way George and I worked 
on that play and also on our second play. 

I didn't stay in Los Angeles more than about, I 
guess, a week to see my parents set up in a hotel, and on 
my way back I stopped at two places to see old friends — 
one was Kenesaw Mountain Landis, whom I mentioned, and I 
stopped off at Logansport, Indiana. I think I must have 
stayed at his home, because I saw in a diary that I had at 
the time that I met his father, and I have no recollection 
of meeting his father; and also [I saw] that we had an 
agreement that if his father ran for a certain public 
office next spring, I would come out and help campaign with 
him. And this I just don't remember at all. But what I do 
remember was our warm reunion and the fact that, through 
his father's acquaintanceship, we were taken on a tour of 
the giant U.S. Steel mill at Gary, Indiana. That's right 
outside of — it must have been Gary, Illinois, right outside 
of Chicago. 



136 



GARDNER: Gary, Indiana. 
MALTZ : Is it Gary, Indiana? 

GARDNER: Yes. The Illinois and Indiana are. . . . 
MALTZ: I see. And that was a very profound experience, 
because here was this massive plant, and let's say if there 
were thirty smokestacks, I don't remember how many there 
were, perhaps there was one smoking. And [there were] these 
immense yards and the immense inside areas for steel, and 
just a few men working and just a little bit going on. I 
think it was working at perhaps, I don't know, 12 percent 
of capacity, or something like that. And it was a very 
dramatic lesson in what this Depression was doing. 

And then I stopped off at Columbus, Ohio, to see my 
old instructor Peter Odegard, who had moved there and was 
on the faculty there, and who had, in about the six months 
before I saw him, been on a sabbatical in Germany. Now, 
this was not too long before the Nazis took power, so he was 
in a Germany that was convulsed and he went interviewing 
Nazis. He went interviewing the Communist party officers. 
And I remember that he had tales at that time which began 
to awaken me. One awful thing pops into my mind of the 
Nazis grabbing someone, I think a Communist, and they of 
course had descended into this type of street warfare, and 
getting him down to a cellar and poking his eyes out with a 
billiard cue. And this was the kind of thing that he came 



137 



back with and, I'm sure, affected my thinking very much. 

George and I finished our mutual work on Merry Go Round 
by about January 10. It was read to the students, and 
I remember Alexander Dean said it was the best play ever 
done by students at Yale, and they scheduled it for imme- 
diate spring production. We both had in mind, after the 
reception of the play, trying to get a Broadway production 
for it, and from some place I must have gotten the name of 
an agency called, I think it was, the Pinker-Morrison Agency, 
or maybe it was just Eric Pinker. Morrison, who was Pinker 's 
wife (I forget her first name) , was one of the three 
Bennett sisters, the actresses. Which one she was, I don't 
know, but she had been an actress and retired and was acting 
as an agent and was married to Eric Pinker, who was a very 
well-spoken Englishman whose father was a very respected 
and successful agent in England. Now, I'm going to pause 
for a moment about him, because although he and his wife 
served us very well--let me see, when was I on the board of 
the Dramatists Guild? Oh, maybe by about '35 or so. It 
doesn't make any difference. 

GARDNER: Yes, it would be around the last part of the 
thirties . 

MALTZ: In '35, '36. I was part of a decision that the 
guild had to make about turning data on Eric Pinker over to 
the district attorney's office. He had represented a woman 



138 



who lived in California. She was a novelist, I think, and 
she was an invalid confined to a wheelchair, but perfectly 
able to write. And a sura of considerable money, I don't 
remember whether it was something like $30,000 (which was 
a lot of money in that time) or even more money. Pinker had 
withheld from her for an undue time after receiving it, and 
then had doled out part of the money to her and had never 
given her the full amount. It was a clear case of fraud. 
And she had appealed to the Dramatists Guild, I believe, or 
maybe it was the Authors League. It must have been when I 
was on the Authors League executive board. And she had 
appealed, and this finally was brought to the attention of 
the district attorney, and this very urbane, well-dressed 
English gentleman went to Sing Sing. Since my uncle had 
been there, and was of such a different kind, and I knew 
the Sing Sing background, it had always been my desire to 
write a story about that. But there have been a lot of 
stories like that which I've had in my files, and life 
somehow has not worked out for my writing them. But it is 
still a story that I would be interested in writing. Because 
one somehow doesn't expect that that type of person will 
turn out to do such a cheap, dirty thing as cheat an 
invalided author out of her royalties. 

During the period that the Pinker-Morrison office 
was submitting Merry Go Round around, I remember we went 



139 



to see a number of different producers. The only one whose 
name I can recall was Jed Harris, who was then an immensely 
successful, respected, and electric figure in the American 
theater (and deservedly so) for the plays that he had directed 
and produced. And I guess he just wanted to see who these 
boys were, because. . . . Oh, I remember — I'll interrupt-- 
I remember he kept us waiting for a long time. He lived in 
some house on the East Side, and we just had to hang around 
outside. We hadn't brought along anything to read, and so 
I think I did something that was sort of typical with me: 
went down and found a little candy store or something, and 
bought a--no, I don't remember now whether I bought a tennis 
ball and played a game that we used to play, putting a dime 
on a crack and then trying to hit it, each an equidistance 
away, or whether we pitched pennies against a wall. But it 
was very much part of my automatic thinking that if you 
had an hour like that, or any length of time, you played a 
game. I was still going on the way I had as a kid. (I remem- 
ber going for a walk in a snowstorm up at Yale with 
Gadget Kazan and Baxter. Well, we made snowballs, we threw 
them at each other, at cars, at houses, at everything, just 
carrying on in that way.) 

And so then we were ushered into the great man's 
presence. He just wanted to look at the boys, I think, 
because he said, well, he had just done such-and-such a play 



140 



and he didn't want to do another political thing or whatever, 
and that was about it. We were disappointed. And I think 
it was shortly after that that I heard a marvelous story 
that I've never forgotten. 

George Kaufman once came to his house for a session 
on something, and when Harris admitted him, or when he was 
admitted by the butler (I think he had a butler) , he found 
Harris naked, and he didn't say anything. They had their 
discussion for however long it was, and Harris of course 
wondering, waiting all this time--why didn't Kaufman say 
something? And then he just said goodbye, and then he 
paused at the door and said, "By the way, Jed, your fly's 
open," [laughter] which was of course a perfect George 
Kaufman thing, just perfect. 

Our play, after having been refused by not all produc- 
ers but a considerable number of them came to a couple 
of young men: one was Walter Hart and the other was 
Michael Blankfort. Now, these two men were both a couple 
of years older than George and myself, but only a couple, 
[sound interference — tape recorder turned off] Hart and 
Blankfort had been at the University of Pennsylvania together, 
and Blankfort had majored in psychology, I believe, and had 
already taught a year at Princeton in psychology. But they 
were both interested in theater, and a year before, they had 
taken a play that others had rejected called Precedent , 



141 



which was about the Mooney-Billings case. They had produced 
it with success at the Provincetown [Playhouse] theater in 
Greenwich Village, on Macdougal Street, as I recall, the one 
that had seen the beginning works of Eugene O'Neill with 
the Provincetown Players. And this theater, which seated 
only about 100 to 150 people, was used as a kind of a tryout 
place. Critics would come down and review plays that were 
done there because it was known that it was used in this way, 
and the hope was that if the play got good reviews, then 
there would be offers from uptown Broadway producers to 
bring it uptown. Since we had no better opportunity and 
since they had done well with Precedent , we signed a contract 
with them, and rehearsals started about the twenty-second 
of March, as I recall, right around in that period. And 
we found that Walter Hart was doing just beautifully in 
bringing the play alive, and doing things with it in the 
movement of actors and in the tempo--he had a marvelous 
sense of tempo which we hadn't visualized. And of course 
that's one of the great things of theater and indeed of film. 
If you write a novel or a story, nobody else adds anything 
to it, and the impact is there or not. But in theater, if 
you have a good play, and then it's well cast, and then it's 
well directed, something comes into existence that is better 
than the script you wrote. It couldn't have come without 
the script, without the play, but that marvelous melding 



142 



of actors well directed and the actors' qualities make it 
a living thing which is just marvelous. 

In our case the producers didn't have money for the 
best actors available; it was done on a low budget. But 
they had, in the main, competent actors--some who were 
better than competent, some who were a little less. I 
remember one man who had a kind of an inability to walk 
well, and why he was cast in the first place, I don't know; 
but Walter Hart so staged things that he blurred that over. 

There was a phenomenon in the rehearsal at that time. 
As I recall, [Actors] Equity, the actors' organization, had 
not yet achieved--yes , I'm sure of it--they had not yet 
achieved rehearsal money for actors; that came in later. 
And so we started to find the phenomenon, when we broke 
for lunch, of various actors saying, "Oh, I never eat 
lunch." And then, after a while, Walter Hart used to 
invite one or another of them out to lunch with us, and they 
ate. It was just that this was deep in the Depression 
and they were broke, and they didn't eat. 

The play opened, and the reviews as a whole were 
very favorable; they went from middling favorable to excel- 
lent favorable. And the day after we opened, we had, I think, 
ten, twelve offers from different theater owners to go 
uptown . 
GARDNER: Do you recall any of the specific reviews? 



143 



MALTZ : Well, I meant to ask you about that. I have scrap- 
books where I have reviews of all plays and novels and 
stories and movies and so on. What do we want to do about 
that? Do you want to turn it off while we talk about this? 
[tape recorder turned off] What were we talking about? 
GARDNER: Well, we were talking about the following day 
after the premiere of Merry Go Round . 

MALTZ: Oh, yes. The following day (and I may correct this; 
I'll listen to a tape before next week in which I gave some 
data on the Theatre Union)--! think we had about ten, twelve 
offers to take the play uptown. That meant that the owner 
of a given theater would finance the building of new sets 
and would arrange a rental agreement and so on, and we'd 
put on the play. Now, we were committed to running two 
weeks in the Provincetown; that was in our contract. That 
was fine because it allowed time for the sets to be built. 
And we had in our play a revolving stage, because 
Merry Go Round has a great, a good many, scenes, and in 

order to make things work rapidly, we used a revolving stage, 
which was then used in the theater rather more than I think 
it is now, and it was a very good device. The theater was 
packed after the reviews, a small theater, and very special 
people would come and search us out. For instance, D. W. 
Griffith came, and he was then out of film but hoping 
to get back. He wanted to make a film of the play, and 



144 



we of course were very interested, but he couldn't raise 
the money, and didn't. And Otto Kahn came down to look us 
over, and I guess we probably knew at that time that he was 
a patron of the arts, had been behind--what was the name of 
the theater he was behind? Oh, I should remember it , . . 
John Howard Lawson was in it and had plays produced . . . 
Francis Faragoh, John Dos Passes ... I forget the name 
of it, but they had been doing theater in the late twenties 
[New Playwrights' Theatre]. And then came a very interesting 
man. He was someone whose name we knew because he was one 
of the friends of that great bon vivant. Mayor V7alker, 
Mayor Jimmy Walker. Oh, I've omitted something very impor- 
tant. 

During this whole period there was an investigation 
of the New York municipal administration, the mayor's office, 
going on, called the Seabury investigation (that was the 
name of the man [Samuel Seabury] doing the investigation, 
the chairman) . And more and more had been exposed about the 
corruption of Mayor Walker's administration. In actual fact, 
when our play appeared I think Mayor Walker was about six 
months away from being summoned by Governor Franklin Roosevelt 
to appear before him for some kind of hearing connected with 
this. And instead of appearing before him, because I think 
it was a gubernatorial commission, Walker took off for 
England or France and never came back. He remained in exile 



145 



until his death, I believe, because if they'd pursued it 
enough, he would have gone to jail. He was a very engaging 
man, and behind the engagement he was as sleazy a crook and 
a companion of gangsters as one could ever imagine, a 
dreadful human being. But so many people were charmed by 
his wit and his debonair manners. 

So that when our play, which we said took place in a 
midwestern city in our program, Cleveland or wherever it was, 
when we bound it up, we bound it up with something that 
read and looked like the Tammany administration. And we 
did it, of course, very purposefully. The reviews, some of 
them at least, made it very clear what this was about and 
where it pointed, and it was therefore a play with some 
explosive quality for the time. A. C. Blumenthal came to see 
us (I don't know whether we knew at the time that he was 
a crony of Mayor Walker's, or whether we found out later; 
we knew his name from the papers) , and he came to George 
and me and said, "This is just such a marvelous play. But 
you ' re doing the wrong thing in going uptown now because 
plays can't last through the summer." (At that time there 
was no air cooling in theaters. And there was often, if a 
play was doing well, when it came into the real heat of the 
summer the play would close until the fall and reopen again. 
Or sometimes plays just died because of the heat; people 
couldn't be in a theater.) And he said, "I want to form a 



146 



company. I want to close this down, reopen it in the fall, 
make a film of it," and he tried to sell us on this. We 
didn't realize that there might be anything else behind it. 
In fact, I'm sure we didn't know he was in any way related 
to Walker, but we found out later. But we wanted our play 
to go on and we had a chance to go uptown. We wanted to go 
uptown, that was all. (He, by the way, fled to Mexico after 
Walker fled to Europe; he fled to Mexico and was there, I 
believe, until his death. I think, I'm not sure, that he 
was married to a former chorine called Peggy Fears, who, it 
was suggested, was also one of Walker's girls.) But what 
he wanted to do was to get us to shut up our play; he'd get 
control of it, and he would bury it. And so without realizing 
it, we didn't give him the opportunity. 

Well, when the two weeks were up, we went uptown. 
We had perhaps a week of rehearsals, I'm not sure, a few 
days of rehearsals on the larger stage, and were to open on 
a Monday night. And around seven o'clock Monday, police 
on horses, as well as some police on foot, came to the street. 
It was Forty-fifth Street, the Avon Theatre, a very good 
theater on a street full of theaters, and they said that the 
play couldn't open because the theater did not have an up-to- 
date fire license. Now, it proved to be so that the theater 
didn't have an up-to-date fire license because of the custom 
among theaters: they would apply for their license, and in 



147 



due course the license would come without respect to the 
particular date of lapse. But in the meantime the theaters 
would keep playing. And there were other theaters on the 
same street that didn't have their new licenses, but they 
were playing. Only, the administration was using this in 
order to prevent the play from opening. 

Well, it was front-page news the next day. The means 
that the administration was using was so transparent that 
nobody was fooled by it. The American Civil Liberties Union 
came into the case right away, and I remember Mayor Walker 
was seen by reporters, and he was quoted as saying that he 
hadn't seen the play; he just understood it wasn't a good 
one. And that he had nothing to do with this; this was just 
the fire department. 

But they couldn't make it stand up, and so the fire 
department issued the license. But they then demanded that 
all of the curtains be fireproofed again. I remember the 
day before the play opened again, an officer of the fire 
department stood with a long, lighted taper burning away 
in his hand next to the curtain, trying to set the curtain 
on fire to prove that it was improperly fireproofed. But they 
also said we had to have an orchestra pit even though there 
was no orchestra required in our play, and no music. But 
they took out about four front rows of seats, just as a means 
of molesting the theater. (And in the fall, when the first 



148 



play to open there was one produced by Peggy Fears, they put 
the seats back again.) 

And so finally the play opened. Now, George and I 
had gone around that week, and we were all hot, and Blankfort 
said, "The play's going to run forever. It's gotten such 
magnificent front-page notices, you know, this is just 
marvelous, it's great." But it didn't run forever at all. 
In spite of a quite full house on opening night, the audi- 
ences began to dwindle, and it limped along for about six 
weeks and then closed. 

GARDNER: Why is that, do you suppose? 

MALTZ: I think I know absolutely why it is, because I tried 
to study it out. And I believe that it's a lesson that I 
think has stood me in good stead all my life, and I've 
seen the same mistake made by others. We wrote an honest 
play, in that we followed what happened in life in Cleveland. 
We had our bellboy, at first with the police saying, "We 
want you to be man enough to testify and you'll help clean 
up the city." And the bellboy's scared because he witnessed 
an accidental--we had a bellboy, that's right, who witnesses 
a gang killing accidentally. But finally he's persuaded 
that he will testify. And then the brother of the gangster 
who is under arrest comes around with his little book and 
says, "Here are the names and addresses of everyone with 
whom we've had financial relations in the administration. 



149 



and this is going to hit the paper unless you quash the 
indictment against my brother." And at this point the bell- 
boy becomes a danger, and it ends up with his being found 
hanged in his cell. 

Now, I learned a real lesson from that. I remembered 
Aristotle's Poetics : that in a tragedy, your hero would 
have to have a fatal flaw, which made him human. But he 
went down to his death bloody but unbowed because he was 
a man of dignity. He was a tragic figure because he had 
dignity, because he was noble. But he was human at the 
same time, and his flaw brought about his demise. So if 
you will, let's say the death of Macbeth is a tragedy. In 
many ways he's a — or Othello is better; he's a noble man but 
he has a fatal flaw, which is his too-quick jealousy. 

There was no flaw in the bellboy. Aesthetically 
speaking, it was as though we were asking the audience to 
watch a child being run over on a street, and its head 
squashed. Now, in life children are run over on the street, 
but there's the difference between life and art. You cannot 
always do in art what is acceptable in life. And when the 
audience watched this innocent bellboy being crushed and 
finally hanged, they came out of the theater and wanted to 
beat their head against a wall. They hadn't witnessed a 
tragedy which purged them in their understanding of what can 
happen in life; they had just seen a child run over. And if 



150 



you saw a child run over and its head squashed, you'd 
probably vomit, you'd feel sick, you'd want to cry. And 
you don't say to people, "Hey, I saw a great play last night. 
You've got to go see it." You say, "Hey, stay away from it, 
it's just ... it kills you." 

To get another example of the difference between life 
and art, which I learned even earlier through a play that 
was done at Yale, you can read in a book that a man on a 
chain gang is whipped, or a slave is whipped and blood spurts 
from his back. But put that on a stage, and if you simulate, 
well, blood spurting from the back of a slave, as you could 
do, you'd find your audience getting up and walking out; they 
couldn't take it. I saw audiences walk out of a play in 
Yale called Steel in which my friend Alan Baxter had the 
central part. He was [playing] an ignorant Slav immigrant, 
and he was walking on top of a building, or he went up on a 
building to look for something, and by accident he picked 
up the cone with which men used to catch rivets (in the days 
when they threw rivets from one floor to another) , and he 
caught a hot rivet which was thrown in there and put his hand 
in on it . . . and screamed. People got up and left the 
audience. They could not take that. It was just too painful, 
But you could read about it. 
GARDNER: Or you could put it in a film. 
MALTZ : You can put it in a film, but in a film. ... I was 



151 



hiding my eyes, and so was my wife, the other day in 
The Return of a Man Called Horse , where they have a 
terrible Indian rite — well, I couldn't watch it, could 
not watch it. And usually what they do is they have a 
quick cut and go away. It's kind of bloodless. Film can 
mask things . 

So I felt I had learned a very important thing about 
the nature of drama and of tragedy, and what you cannot do 
in just an unrelenting drama. [background noise] Let me 
shut this off and ask my wife to stop making. . . . [tape 
recorder turned off] And so that was, to me, a very impor- 
tant lesson, and I have seen illustrations of playwrights 
and film writers going wrong on that. For instance, you 
don't feel that way in a true tragedy like Man for All Seasons 
At the end of that a man is decapitated, that's how it ends, 
but he has fought for something knowing the dangers involved. 
He has refused to bend, and at the end he walks up to the 
platform, and he gives a penny to the man who's going to 
cut his head off, and you say, "Yes, it's too bad he dies, 
but he dies fighting for something." And you're ennobled 
by what he did, and you feel purged in the Aristotelian 
sense, and you don't feel like beating your head against a 
wall. You say, "How admirable and wonderful," and it's an 
entirely different feeling. It's a fascinating point of 
aesthetics to me. 



152 



GARDNER: That is! It's interesting especially in the light 
of the war films that became popular in the middle sixties 
and on about the meaninglessness of death. Because despite 
the fact that the life isn't one like Thomas More's, in 
which nobility is played out to the end, and the death can 
be, not necessarily accidental, but not purposeful in any 
way, not due to tragic flaw, nonetheless there is the same 
sentiment, the same feeling in the audience that the person 
is dying for a reason, a cause. That's sort of a statement 
and a question, I suppose. 

MALTZ : Yes. You go back to the war films of World War II. 
Somebody's dying, and he's dying to stop fascism, to keep a 
country secure, to keep democracy and so on. So it's a 
different thing. It isn't the innocent run over and squashed 
by a steamroller. 

So we didn't earn any money particularly. As a 
matter of fact, we didn't receive our royalties. We agreed 
to that to try to keep the play running. We got a little 
bit of money out of it. And then we sold the thing to films. 
At that time, since it wasn't a big success, we sold it for 
about $10,000 to films, and at that time the producers got 
50 percent, so I guess George and I had $2,500, less agent's 
commission. But that was in the Depression, and that was 
a little money. And a little bit later — I'll take that up 
next time--we went out to Hollywood. But before we do, I'll 



153 



read a few of the reviews that we got on Merry Go Round 
a few little excerpts. 

SECOND PART (August 19, 19 76) 

GARDNER: Now, we left off last time in the midst of the 
Merry Go Round . 

MALTZ : Yes, now let me just stop and check. . . . [tape 

recorder turned off] There are some additional points 

that I thought of that I think are worth recording about 
Merry Go Round . First, when the script was copyrighted 

and when George Sklar and I sent it out to producers, I 
had a pseudonym on it. And the reason I had a pseudonym 
was that I read the play to my father after we both finished 
it, and he had come back from California and he got scared. 
My mother was frightened too, and he said, "Tammany Hall will 
kill me," because, since he was a builder and since anything 
he built or any building he maintained was subject to inspec- 
tion, an administration that was angry at him could absolutely 
bankrupt him. Any building that he was building, they could 
say this is wrong and that's wrong, you can't proceed, and 
so on and so forth, and what are you going to do about it? 
You have to have their licenses or you can't function. That 
was why I put on a pseudonym. But as the time approached 
for a Broadway production, he had an internal struggle 
because he was also so very proud of having a son who was 



154 



going to have a play produced professionally, and finally 
his pride won over his anxiety. And so my own name was 
put on it. Otherwise, I was going right ahead with a 
pseudonym. 

GARDNER: What was the pseudonym? 

MALTZ : Oh, you know, I was trying to think of the pseudo- 
nym when I made this note. Couldn't think of it and I 
didn't want to go to my bank vault where I have my copy- 
rights and find the original copyright. But as I began to 
tell this to you, it jumped to my mind — Eric Trent. And 
why I said Eric Trent, I don't know. I later had occasion 
to use some pseudonyms beginning in the sixties, and I'll 
come to that later. 

Now, I didn't mention something interesting . . . 
just one second. . .[tape recorder turned off] We had 
twelve offers to move Merry Go Round uptown after the 
opening at the Provincetown, and we took the offer made 
from a theater that was owned by the Leblang Agency. That 
was a marvelous thing, I don't believe it exists anymore. 
It was an agency which would sell tickets at cut-rate, 
frequently as much as 50 percent below the box office price, 
with the agreement of the given theater. And what would 
happen was that if a play was running and it was beginning 
to lose its audiences and was running downhill, they would 
give their tickets to Leblang, where a lot of people 



155 



seeking cheaper seats would go on a given day to buy tickets. 
And by an influx of a lot more people who had bought cheaper 
tickets, the theater would be able to keep its play running. 
I know that in those years I always went to try and get 
tickets at Leblang to go into a theater. And the reason why 
we took that theater was that we were opening now in April, 
I believe, and since there was no air cooling in theaters 
at that time, most plays, or all plays, had to shut up for 
the summer. They just couldn't continue playing because 
audiences couldn't stand the heat inside of a theater. And 
then some would reopen in the fall if they were big successes, 
but those which had not been big successes probably would 
never open again. And having the Leblang Agency for a play 
was a way of giving us greater strength. 

Two days after we took the offer of the Leblang Agency, 
they called us and said that they had decided not to take 
our play. They reversed. And we then called each one of 
the eleven other theaters in turn and all of them said that 
they had reversed. It was then that we began to realize 
that something was afoot. Fortunately, one of them--no, 
eleven of them, eleven of the twelve reversed — but the final 
one, which was a very good house on Forty-fifth Street, took us. 

Merry Go Round sold as a film, for at the time, 
the not large but not insignificant sum of $10,000, and 
under the rules of the time half of that went to the producers. 



156 



So that after payment of agent's commission, George and 

I each had about $2,250, which was a very nice little sum 

for that period, if you consider that people got. . . . Let's 

say the Actors Equity minimum at that time was $40 a week 

for an actor; you divide $40 into $2,250, and that was a 

considerable amount of living. It was made into a film 

called Afraid to Talk , and it was a poorly made film and 

never made any stir of any sort. 

GARDNER: Do you want to go into your Hollywood experiences? 

MALTZ : I'm going to go into that when I finish Merry Go 

Round , yes. We were not involved in the film Afraid to Talk . 

GARDNER: I thought you were. 

MALTZ: No, we were not. We just sold it and somebody else 

did the screenplay. 

GARDNER: I see. 

MALTZ: Now, there was a very funny incident when Merry Go 

Round was optioned by someone in Chicago to make a production. 

He did have a production; we don't know what kind it was, we 

never saw it. We didn't know anything about the guy, but 

it was professionally done, and we gathered that he must have 

had contacts with political people. We know that he invited 

the mayor and a good many others in the top circles of the 

municipal ruling group in Chicago to come to the opening 

night. And as they sat and watched this play unfold, one 

by one they got up and left the theater, [laughter] 



157 



It was an absolute disaster for the producer because this 
was a play, you know, that was just throwing water on them, 
or mud on them. Really crazy. I don't know whether the 
producer never saw the play, you know, just put up money 
for it, or what. Merry Go Round was never done after 
that anywhere until in the fifties, when it was done in 
the Deutsches Theater in East Germany in Berlin. 

The Deutsches Theater was a theater on a very high 
professional level. Its director was a man whose name I 
knew, Wolfgang Langoff, who died a few years ago. Because 
around 1935 or '36, a book appeared in the United States 
by an actor who had been in a concentration camp for about 
a year in Germany and then was released by the Nazis. He 
made his way, I think, to Sweden, and that book, which I 
read at that time, was by Wolfgang Langoff. lie apparently 
was in Sweden during the war years and then he returned, 
and I guess he was a convinced Communist. He went to East 
Germany and established this theater, and he was a very good 
theater man because I saw a filmed version. In East Germany 
they've had the practice of filming. 



158 



TAPE NUMBER: IV, SIDE TWO 
AUGUST 19, 1976 

GARDNER: You'd begun to talk about the East German film 
industry . 

MALTZ: Yes, I interrupted myself and I'll go back and say 
that I did see a film version of the production that Langoff 
did of Merry Go Round , and it was a very well-directed 
play. In East Germany there is the practice — or there was, 
if it doesn't continue--of filming a stage play just as it 
is and then just showing it. I find it quite satisfactory. 
I don't know whether it has ever been attempted in the 
United States, but I also saw in that theater The Diary of 
Anne Frank , which happened to be playing in 1959 when I 
was in East Germany, and with the daughter of some dear 
friends playing the lead role (some friends I had known in 
Mexico) . He was a very fine theater man, so that this was 
a most interesting experience to encounter this man first in 
a book and then as a director of this play. 

GARDNER: As long as you introduced that aside, let me ask 
you a couple of questions. Do you think that there is any 
connection between the fact that the German expressionist 
theater, which really--Brecht went back to East Germany 
after World War II and so on — is such a filmic medium? 
There's so much embellishment in the expressionist theater 



159 



that adapts well to film. I think particularly of 
The Threepenny Opera , which can be filmed really as a 
stage play without losing anything. Do you think that 
that might have something to do with the fact that they 
film theater? 

MALTZ: No, I wouldn't think so. I would just think 
that as a practical matter someone said, "Shucks, why 
don't we just film this play? We like it when we sit in 
a theater, why wouldn't people like it when they watched 
it?" And it's not unknown in the whole world. I believe 
that Laurence Olivier's Othello was filmed in that manner. 
I think various performances of Marcel Marceau have been 
filmed. (He's a friend that I want to talk about later. 
Help me remember if I forget.) But I don't know if it's 
done extensively except there, and actually I don't know 
how extensively it is done. I just know that they do 
do it. And in the case of Merry Go Round , there was 
nothing expressionistic about it. It was a realistic play, 
realistic melodrama. That was it. 

Something that I want to mention is that in New York 
in the year 19 32, when Merry Go Round went on, there 
were 166 legitimate theaters, and there were an equivalent 
number of play producers looking for plays. I think that 
in New Yorknov;, theaters, meaning both in the Broadway area 
and off Broadway, number about forty, so that's a little 



160 



less than one-fourth. All of this is of considerable 
cultural implication for the United States in the field of 
drama. Quite recently Brooks Atkinson delivered an address 
here. He's in his eighties, a man who has loved theater, and 
he said something that was a little odd within an otherwise 
very interesting talk, at least as reported in the press. 
He said this is a time of great events and yet there aren't 
the playwrights; the playwrights haven't come forward in a 
way you'd expect for a time like this. What he was for- 
getting to weigh was that writers are not going to turn to 
writing for the theater if they have no opportunity of 
having their work played. And nowadays on Broadway, if 
you are trying for Broadway, if you want to try and make a 
living, let's say, you have to decide to write a comedy with 
one set, with about six or seven characters at most. Other- 
wise you have written a play that no producer will even 
weigh. Because the producers either want British successes 
or a comedy of the type I described or something from an 
already established playwright like Williams or Albee or 
Miller. The costs have become so prohibitive that they 
cannot do what was done in the American theater in the more 
golden years of the twenties and thirties and forties and 
fifties. And we will see, comparatively speaking, the 
extinction of American drama if this is somehow not changed. 
Now, there has been a growth of regional theaters, like 



161 



the Mark Taper in Los Angeles, and these will help keep 
alive the desire to write plays. But I know that I myself. . 
For instance, although I turned to fiction after 1935, I 
did have an idea for a play I wanted very much to write in 
the late fifties and I wrote it, it has never been produced. 
It's a play called Monsieur Victor : it's about Victor Hugo. 
But there was a reason for me to write it even in the late 
fifties. Although the number of theaters was smaller than 
in the early thirties, there was still reason to think that 
if I wrote a play that was good, et cetera, it might get on. 
I would never write a play now, not at all. Unless, perhaps, 
I had been commissioned by a theater, by the Mark Taper, I 
would consider it a waste of time. Similarly, I am sure 
there simply cannot be the wealth of excellent short-story 
writers, or writers of excellent short stories who later 
went on to become novelists of distinction, today as there 
were in the thirties, because the number of magazines that 
will print an adult short story has dwindled enormously. 

And this just means that nobody can write in a vacuum. 
I don't know how many people, to give an exaggerated illus- 
tration, how many writers would write if they were cast 
on a desert island, were alone, and knew that their work 
would never be read by anyone. I don't think anybody would 
write, really, unless it formed a way of keeping sanity 
perhaps. When you write, you want people to read or see 



162 



what you've done. And if the opportunities close down, as 

they have for economic reasons in the United States, you 

begin to lose the richness that you had in two previous 

forms. And now to finish off with Merry Go Round I'll 

read . . . 

GARDNER: Can I ask a question to sort of conclude that 

thought? 

MALTZ: Yes. 

GARDNER: Are more young writers, then, channeled into 

film? I think that's the next question to ask. Where 

else can they be channeled? 

MALTZ: Oh, I think you now find many more writers who are 

looking, who are beginning — many more writers whose aim as 

writers is to write for TV or film . . • 

GARDNER: Since that's the only available market. 

MALTZ: . . . since those become some of the prime markets. 

But this type of writer frequently today is more ambitious 

than film writers, let's say, in the forties were. Because 

things have changed in films also and the writer hopes to 

be not just the writer, but the director and perhaps the 

producer as well--in short, to have complete control of 

his material from conception to final film: to be an auteur 

as Ingmar Bergman is of the Europeans or as a 

Francis Ford Coppola is. And this is something new and 

something, I think, highly desirable, highly creative, that 



163 



has been added to the cultural scene in the United States. 

I have the reviews of Merry Go Round and what 
I'll do is to read some small excerpts from a number of 
the reviews to give as balanced a sense as I can of them. 
The first review is from Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times . 
It says, "Despite its incidental crudities of workmanship. 
Merry Go Round , which was acted in the Provincetown last 
evening, is an exciting political melodrama chiefly because 
of its local resemblances. . . . Neither the playwright or the 
production is of superior qualities. If the play comes 
uptown, both may improve. But the pertinent nature of the 
material and the vigor of the story make Merry Go Round an 
experience in the theater." John Anderson, New York Journal : 
"It is a play of blunt attack and ferocious intent, and its 
blemishes do not damage the fury of its accusation. It 
makes its points and makes them relentlessly, and it plainly 
fascinated an audience jammed into the Macdougal Street 
stable to its last breathing space. I found it engrossing." 
(The reason why he says "Macdougal Street stable" is that 
I remember now that the Provincetown theater was once a 
stable before it was converted into a theater.) 
Richard Lockridge, in the New York Sun , April 12, 1932 (and 
that must have been the date of all the other reviews) : 
"A play with the bite like an angry bulldog's was unleashed 
at the Provincetown Playhouse last evening. It hides behind 



164 



a fairly innocuous title, Merry Go Round , but there is no 
frolic in the scenes through which Albert Maltz and 
George Sklar, the authors, throw their whole weight 
against corruption and brutality. No light music plays 
them on as they tell the story of an insignificant bellhop 
who got in the way of a machine and was run over." And then 
finally, Robert Garland in the New York Telegram : "All in 
all Merry Go Round is bitter, brave, and as good an 
antidote as any for the spring fever from which the theater 
is suffering. I heartily recommend it but not to policemen, 
children, or the tenderhearted." Now, that's a sufficient 
cross section I would think. It will be a guide for the 
future and other reviews that I give. 

In July George Sklar and I went out to Los Angeles 
because we had been offered a contract for three months by 
Paramount Pictures and. . . . 

GARDNER: Did they solicit you or did you. . . ? 
MALTZ: No, they solicited us. They were not the studio 
that had bought Merry Go Round ; that was bought by 
Universal. But we wanted to earn the money. The money at 
that time was $300 for the both of us, which, after a $30 
commission was taken off by the agent, meant that we each 
were getting $135 a week. Well, that was a lot of money at 
that time, and I remember that I didn't have a bank account 
or make a checking account that I can recall out in Los Angeles 



165 



Maybe I did. I know my father wanted me to send the first 
check back to him, because he wanted to frame it, he was so 
proud of the fact that his son was earning some money already. 
(I haven't mentioned that we didn't finish our semester at 
Yale; we didn't go back for classes anymore.) And so we 
arrived in Los Angeles and came out with the man, Walter Hart, 
who had directed Merry Go Round and who also got a contract 
at Paramount. His was a contract to continue if they liked 
his work; ours was not, because we didn't want to continue 
on as film writers. We wanted to come back and write plays. 
And we were put on what might seem to have been an interesting 
assignment, and that was a novel by Dashiell Hammett called 
The Glass Key . Now, in fact, it was not a good assignment 
at all. I don't know how it is with every one of Hammett 's 
books — for instance. The Maltese Falcon might be better 
worked out, I think perhaps it is — but I know that I had 
occasion to once be asked to dramatize another one of 
Hammett's books (I forget the title of it), and I found 
there the same problems that I found with The Glass Ke y, and 
George found: namely, that his books are immensely 
readable and the suspense that he builds is such that it 
keeps one's attention reading rapidly, but if you have to 
pause and examine what literally happens in certain scenes, 
and make it real visually on the screen, it is just about 
impossible to realize because it's phony. His books are 



166 



full of highly readable phony elements which do not stand 
up under a moment's reflection. 
GARDNER: For example, do you recall. . , ? 
MALTZ : No, I don't recall any examples. I would have to 
get the book, and then I could pick it out from page after 
page after page. But if I can try and think up an example. 
Let's say ... he would write by saying Sam Spade was in 
a taxicab and he was looking at his notebook when there was 
a sudden screeching of brakes, and the next thing he knew 
he was on the sidewalk, and he looked up with blood running 
out of his mouth and saw that the cab had hit another one. 
He had apparently flown through the open window and landed 
on his face. He pulled a loose tooth out of his mouth, 
looked at it and threw it down the sewer, stuffed a corner 
of a handkerchief between his lips, and went on the next 
several blocks to his office. He uncorked a bottle of rye 
and drank until the pain no longer bothered him, and 
suddenly a voice said, "Put 'em up, so-and-so." And you 
start to say, you know, how'd the guy get in the door? 
What did he do about the tooth by next day? I don't know, 
I'm not giving a good illustration. . . • 
GARDNER: I get the idea. 

MALTZ: But I can just tell you that when you had to 
dramatize it, and you had to provide a visual picture, you 
couldn't do it. We spent weeks on this thing and finally I 



167 



think after about six weeks, we gave it up. And then after- 
wards we wrote an original story which Paramount wasn't 
interested in, and there's an interesting little footnote 
about it. 

The studio probably hired us because someone said, 
"Here are a couple of young hotshots, got a lot of talent," 
so the studio executives probably decided, "Oh, we're not 
going to lay our tired hands on them. We want their 
unspoiled talent to be fresh," and so on and so forth. So 
they put us in an office and nobody knocked on our door to 
say, "Hey, you know, should we talk about film writing a 
little bit?" If we had been working with a producer or 
director who might have given us a little guidance, we might 
have done better for them. But they had some idea of their 
own about leaving us alone, and leave us alone they did. 
At the end of three months we came back home with great 
pleasure. However, I will say that it was my introduction 
to what I call the great pleasures of the better aspects 
of Los Angeles living — the marvelous weather and so on. 
We had no contact with film circles, met a few people at the 
studios: one man, Lester Cole, whom I came to know much 
better later on, and another man, who had been a manager 
of wrestlers, told very funny stories about wrestlers. His 
name was Oscar Serlin. He subsequently went on to produce 
Life with Father, and having made an enormous amount of 



168 



money with that, he then retired from all production of all 
sorts. What he did with his life, I don't know. But I 
don't think he ever did another play. And that was about 
all. 

During that summer I was making notes for a novel 
that I thought I might want to write someday, and aside 
from the notes, I had a title and, with it, there's a 
little story. The title of my novel was Bury the Dead . 
And about 1934, I guess, or '35, after Irwin Shaw's--oh 
no, before Irwin Shaw's play of the same title had come 
out, my friend George invited me to take a walk with him 
and, with considerable tension, said he had something to 
tell me. It was that a young playwright had come to him 
with a long one-act play, and he had found a lot of good 
stuff in it and made some suggestions for rewriting. But 
then had said, "You ought to change the title. The title 
is terrible." The title was Bury Them, They Stink . And 
this young man said, "Well, have you got any ideas?" George 
said, "Why don't you call it Bury the Dead ?" And the young 
man said, "That's a fine title." And then George said, 
"His name is Irwin Shaw, and the play is going to be 
produced" (I forget by whom), "and gee, I gave away 
your title." And I said, "Well, I probably am not going to 
write the novel anyway, so you haven't done me any great 
harm. And don't worry about it." 



169 



GARDNER: Was the novel the same sort of thing, an antiwar- • 

MALTZ : No, the novel was a family novel. [It] had to do 

with my family. 

GARDNER: Oh, how interesting. 

MALTZ: Yes, it was just a very personal novel. 

There were a number of interesting things that happened 
on our way back from Los Angeles, which of course in those 
days meant train travel. And actually, it was four nights 
and three days in a non-air-conditioned train. During this 
period I was reading the New Masses ; I'm sure I read 
the Nation , the New Republic ; I'm sure I had begun to read 
various Marxist pamphlets. George and I were always talking 
about events in the world and world politics, and I was 
moving leftward in my thinking. And so having read . . . 
yes, I guess it must have been in the Daily Worker . . . 
no, it might have been at that time the Nation or 
the New Republic . . . about what was going on in the building 
of Boulder Dam near Las Vegas, [Nevada], we decided to stop 
off there and take a look at it. Now, at that time (this is 
September — no, early October '32) Las Vegas didn't have 
any of the hotels that it now has. It was a small Nevada 
town with perhaps all dirt streets. I remember there was 
one street where there was a row of cribs, small little rooms 
with just about enough room for a cot and a way to move 
around it, with a woman standing in the doorway of each one. 



170 



inviting men in. It was open prostitution. 

And in the town at that moment, sleeping out of doors 
since it was still warm, were about 10,000 men waiting to 
get work at Boulder Dam, which was about, I think, twenty 
miles away or twelve miles away, something close. The 
reason why they were there is that word had gone out all 
over the country that Boulder Dam was hiring. It was a 
very big project run by seven companies; seven companies were 
involved in the building of that dam. [sound interference-- 
tape recorder turned off] Boulder Dam was being built by 
seven companies in association, and they had indeed sent word 
out throughout the country (I'm sure it was deliberate 
publicity) , saying that they were hiring men at Boulder Dam. 
And so men from all over the country hopped freights, hitch- 
hiked to try and get work. I'm going into this story and 
another one as a way of reminding any readers of this material 
in the future of just a few of the aspects of life in America 
in those days which impinged upon the consciousness of some- 
one like myself. There was a reason why the seven companies 
enjoyed having 10,000 men in the town of Las Vegas waiting 
to get work, and the reason was that they wanted to keep 
their project a nonunion one. If they had a constant turn- 
over of men (and they saw to it that they did) , there was no 
opportunity for them to get organized. 
GARDNER: Right. 



171 



MALTZ : So what they would do is this: aside from men 
who were perhaps very skilled in certain kinds of crafts 
that they needed, they saw to it that everybody else they 
hired was hired for a certain specific job--for instance, 
the digging of one tunnel. And when that tunnel was dug, 
let's say it took several months or weeks or whatever, they 
would then say to those men, "You're fired, but stick around 
because we'll have some more work for you," Now, in 
general they never had any more work for them. They hired 
other men, and the men they had just fired stayed around the 
company boarding houses which they maintained, where they 
got a decent bunk, a bed in a barrack, and where (since we 
had a meal in one of them) [they had] adequate food, quite 
adequate I would say, but for which they had to pay a certain 
amount of money. 

Now, there also were available gambling houses run by 
the company and whorehouses run by the company. Not only 
that, but when these men were fired, if they wanted their 
money they were given scrip, which was company money which 
was only acceptable in these company enterprises. Also 
there was a company store for the purchase of groceries and 
clothes and so on. And I know, because we spoke to some 
men, if they insisted that they wanted their money all in 
dollars because they wanted to leave, they couldn't get it. 
They wouldn't give it to them; they would give them a portion 



172 



in dollars, and if they wanted to make a fuss there was the 
chief of police, who was a company man, and on some trumped- 
up charge they would be in jail. And whom could they appeal 
to? To a company judge? 
GARDNER: What was your access? 

MALTZ: I'll tell you. So that here was a structured situa- 
tion whereby the companies running the construction of the 
dam had the men who worked for them work considerably for 
free, because the money that they paid the men turned a 
corner and came back to the company in the form of payments 
for board and room, gambling, whores, and so on. And also 
by their hiring and firing practices, they prevented organi- 
zers from ever building unions there. The men weren't there 
long enough. Actually, the only organizers that I think were 
there were some Wobblies . I met one man selling a Wobbly 
paper and he was just in jail every other day; they hauled 
him in and let him out, hauled him in and let him out. There 
wasn't much he could do. I might say that some years later, 
when I was teaching in Boulder, Colorado, at a writers con- 
ference at the University of Colorado, one of the students 
there had worked in the clerical office at Boulder Dam during 
the building of the dam, and she verified what at that time 
had been revealed in one of the papers I had read--that is, 
either the Nation or New Republic or Daily Worker , whatever 
it was: that there were a great many accidents and deaths 



173 



in the building of the dam. [There] probably are some in 
every dam; you can't help it. But these were all written 
down as pneumonia in order to avoid any hue and cry, in 
order to avoid possible suits and workmen's compensation 
and so on. 

Now, when we went there, we just went by bus. It 
was not a closed area because men would come and ask for 
work. The area itself was not like a plant which is rigged 
with fences where you show a pass to get in. And we fell to 
talking. I think perhaps the first man we talked with was 
the Wobbly organizer, seller of the Wobbly paper. Within, 
I think, an hour or less of the time that we stepped into 
the town. . . . Oh, I forgot, we also wanted to ask about a 
disaster we'd read about. Apparently one of the barracks 
had been in such a position that a large boulder had crashed 
down from the mountainside, gone through the roof of the 
barracks, and killed several men. And the barracks had 
been ordered by government inspectors to be shut, but we 
understood that they were still using them. And so we made 
an inquiry about that. Within an hour or less after we 
came into the town, the chief of police came up to us and 
wanted to know what bus we were leaving on that day. "Because," 
he said, "if you're not out of here by night, you are going 
to be in jail." Just like that. 
GARDNER: Just like in the movies. 



174 



MALTZ: Yes. And we said, "Well, we're going out on the 
so-and-so bus," and he said, "You be on it." And we were. 
Of course, we could observe that men were working in very 
difficult conditions, but those could not be helped; that 
is to say, there was nothing that could be done really about 
clouds of dust where there was drilling, or the hot sun of 
October at that time. That would have been present in any 
instance. And men dangling from ropes as they drilled in the 
sides of cliffs were doing dangerous work, but that had 
nothing to do with everything else we learned there and in 
Las Vegas about the general way in which the company operated, 
which I have already described. I think I would add that at 
that time in Las Vegas, or at the time we were there, some 
bootleg whiskey had been sold which affected the nervous sys- 
tems of men, so that innumerable men were walking in the 
strangest fashion: some with their bodies way over on one 
side, some with their bodies leaning back, some with their 
bodies leaning forward. How long that had gone on, how 
long it lasted, we never knew. But it was there for us to 
visually observe. 

Now, the type of brutal and conscious exploitation of 
workingmen that existed in that dam project, and which we 
knew was duplicated in a thousand ways in other enterprises 
over the United States, fed the ideas that we were beginning 
to have that socialism as we read of it would be a much 



175 



more humane system under which people could live and work. 
We stopped off in Chicago to see a friend of mine, a par- 
ticular friend of mine who had been at the drama school, 
Paul Scofield (I mentioned him) . 
GARDNER: Right. 

MALTZ: And just at that time there was an immense funeral 
march. (I don't remember how many people, I just remember 
visually how large it was. George, whom I asked the other 
day about it, said that there were 100,000 people marching, 
which seems to me larger than I would have expected, but 
let's say it v;as only 50 , 000--still a lot of people.) They 
were marching because there had been the following incident: 
a family had been evicted for nonpayment of rent. The local 
Unemployed Council had gathered and taken the furniture 
off the sidewalk and put it back into the apartment. The 
police had come, and the members of the Unemployed Council 
had prevented the police from evicting the people again. 
(Or maybe it had been that they never put their furniture out 
in the first place because the people were there. It's the 
same thing.) And one man was shot by the police and died. 
I might give a little background to that. 

There were a number of different organizations of the 
unemployed, the two most important were those led by the 
Socialists and those led by the Communists. I think the 
Socialist one was the Workers Alliance and the one led by 



176 



the Cominunist party was the Unemployed Councils, and that was 
by far the largest organization. The Communist party was 
much more successful than the Socialists in organizing 
unemployed in the United States and in conducting demon- 
strations . 

Now, conditions were such that there was a naked clash 
between the needs of people to have minimal shelter and the 
needs of landlords to get rent paid. The election of Roosevelt 
did not occur until the fall of '32, later than this, and 
under Hoover there were no means that I can recall provided 
by government, local or federal, for the assistance of a 
family where the father became unemployed, where he could not 
find other work, and where presently he was unable to pay 
the rent. The landlord had his own needs. He was not 
necessarily a wealthy landlord like Trinity Church in New York. 
He might have been quite a small landlord who depended upon 
the rents of one apartment house for his own livelihood, and 
he couldn't have a nonpaying tenant. But when he had the 
police come and put the tenants' furniture on the street, 
and there was a family with children and his furniture on the 
street, you had a human condition which was dreadful. And 
into that situation stepped force: the force of the police, 
on the one hand — the force of the law, enforcing property 
rights--and the force of the mobilization of bare-handed 
people by the Unemployed Councils on behalf of the elementary 



177 



human needs of the people who had been evicted. It was the 
same as the penny sales of farm properties. I don't know 
if I mentioned them last time, did I? 
GARDNER : No . 

MALTZ : Well, I will again because of what happened in my 
own life. But I think it's worth mentioning now that there 
were comparable situations all over the United States in 
farming areas. A farmer would find that prices had fallen 
so disastrously that he could not sell crops or cattle for 
a sufficient sum to pay his debts. Or there would be 
drought, as there was terribly in '34 and '35. And not being 
able to pay the mortgage on his farm, the farm would be 
repossessed, usually by a bank or a finance company. And 
farmers who might have worked the land many, many years, and 
who were good farmers, and hardworking, would find their 
farm and all its implements taken from them. And as this 
happened a sufficient number of times, local farmers, farmers 
who had voted Republican all along and are still voting 
Republican today, gathered — some with pitchforks and some 
with axes and some with weapons--and when the auctioneer came 
to auction off the property, which frequently happened, and 
its implements, there would be anywhere from 200 to 500 to 
1,000 farmers. And even if they had 10, 20, 30 or 40 depu- 
ties, if you have 40 deputies, however well armed, and 1,000 
really angry and determined farmers, the deputies aren't 



178 



going to do anything when the farmers buy a tractor for one 
penny. Which is what they did: they would buy the whole 
farm and all of the implements for a dollar and give them 
back to their neighbor, the farmer. And that was the way 
in which force and right on one side were confronted by force 
and right on another . 

And so George and I walked alongside on the sidewalk, 
watching this demonstration, which took hours to pass a 
given point because of the multitude. And it is a tremen- 
dously impressive thing to find that number of people not in 
a holiday mood, serious, grim, walking behind a corpse with 
signs indicating certain slogans and certain chants which 
they had, and the significance of it was very deeply 
impressive. I think I just want to pause for a moment to 
check what this tape sounds like. [tape recorder turned off] 

When George Sklar and I returned to New York, we each 
got a separate room in a rather old apartment house at 
50 Commerce Street, which is a little street kind of hidden 
away in Greenwich Village. We chose that street and building 
because it happened to have the rooms available, and that 
was where Michael Blankfort and his wife Laurie lived. 
Blankfort had been the producer of Merry Go Round . 

We immediately set to work on our second play. 
Peace on Earth , the idea for which we had conceived and 
talked about in general while we were in Los Angeles, and 



179 



had decided to write. At that time, we established contact 
with those individuals who had started talking about the 
creation of a theater that would deal with people in their 
social contexts, a theater, let's say, of social significance 
and which was later to be called the Theatre Union. A 
contact had already been made between the leading spirit in 
this theater venture, whose name was Charles Rumford Walker, 
and my friend George. Before we went out to Los Angeles, 
Walker had met George in the office of an agent and had 
immediately begun to talk with him about this project which 
he and a number of others had. And George was keenly 
interested in it and told me about it. George and Walker 
exchanged some letters during the summer. And when we 
returned in October, we made contact with them and very 
shortly afterwards began to meet with them. I'll wait to 
say more about the Theatre Union until I come to discuss it 
more fully. 

At that time, while working on Peace on Earth , we were 
living, as were all Americans (some more sensitive to it 
than others, of course), in an atmosphere which I have 
already begun to describe by speaking of Boulder Dam and 
the funeral march in Chicago, but which I want to go into a 
little more fully. Violence by what we could call the 
Establishment was constantly manifest in the United States 
at that time. For instance, it was, I think, in that fall 



180 



of ' 32 that there was a considerable demonstration, perhaps 
by the Unemployed Councils, I'm not sure, in front of the 
Ford Motor Company asking for jobs. Five men were shot dead 
by the police; others were wounded. . . . 



181 



TAPE NUMBER: V, SIDE ONE 
AUGUST 19, 19 76 

MALTZ : I don't remember exactly when a large textile strike 
occurred in Gastonia, North Carolina, but the public rela- 
tions person for the union when it took place — it might 
have been in 1931--was a New Mexican woman, Margaret Larkin, 
who later became my wife. And while she was there, she 
narrowly escaped a lynching, and the leader of the union, or 
one of the leaders of the union, who was a folksinger 
singing her own songs about the union, a woman called 
Ella May Wiggin, was shot dead while driving in a truck back 
from a union meeting. These are merely two examples of 
hundreds and hundreds that occurred at that time, one of 
the most celebrated being the violence that occurred--not 
celebrated, the most notorious--the violence that occurred 
in Harlan, Kentucky, at a coal miners' strike, where the 
miners also had weapons since they were Kentucky mountaineers, 
[It was] a violence, however, which was much greater on the 
side of the employers, where national guardsmen were brought 
in, I believe, and v;here a delegation of eastern intellec- 
tuals headed by Theodore Dreiser went down to investigate 
what had happened and were put in jail. (Dreiser later went 
on trial, and there was an attempt to stain his character in 
the public eye by saying that he had had a prostitute in 



182 



his hotel room while down there. And Dreiser refuted that 
by saying, "I didn't because I can ' t . " ) 

However, in addition to this violence, there were all 
the pitiful signs of misery everywhere. For instance, all 
along Riverside Drive in New York City, which was a long 
area of many blocks and considerable width, and alongside of 
which I had walked when I was a student, all down there wooden 
shacks, improvised by the men with a hammer and a few nails, 
with tar-paper roofs or roofs of corrugated iron, whatever 
they could get, sprang up, and some thousands of men lived 
there. They had no place else to go. And [they] fed them- 
selves by panhandling, or perhaps they were among the apple 
sellers, or they went down to various missions for one meal 
a day. 

In the year . . . when did I write. . . ? I think it 
was as late as the year 1936, in the summer or in the early 
fall, I was walking near Wanamaker's department store, which 
was, I think, around Tenth Street and Third Avenue in 
New York City. There was one whole street in which the 
sidewalks, which are quite wide there (I think because of 
the department store) , had a carpet of men — one man next to 
another, just sleeping. You couldn't walk on the sidewalk. 
They were asleep, usually with some newspapers under them 
and perhaps newspapers above them. This was the period in 
which one of the most celebrated songs was "Brother, Can You 



183 



Spare a Dime?", sung by a man who . . . the lyrics saying: 
once I was an engineer, once I was this, once I was that-- 
brother can you spare a dime? 

I have in front of me a volume put out by Time-Life 
Books, part of a series called This Fabulous Century , and in 
a section called "Hard Times," which has photographs of 
migrant workers, it has a quotation from a migratory worker's 
logbook. And it reads the following: 



"October-December 19 32: Cut Malaga and muscat 
grapes near Fresno. About $40 a month. December 
1932: Left for Imperial Valley, Calif. February 
1933: Picked peas. Imperial Valley. Earned $30 
for season. On account of weather, was for- 
tunate to break even. March-April 1933: Left for 
Chicago. Returned to California. May 1933: Odd 
jobs on lawns and radios at Fresno. June 19 33: 
Picked figs near Fresno. Earned $50 in two months, 



Now, living was cheaper then, but fifty dollars for 
two months would not have kept a family, or a single man, 
for that matter. They have a picture of a very broken-down 
Ford automobile, with some mattresses on the top, with pails 
and a kitchen table, and a large seeming garbage can attached 
to the back, and the car is just waiting at the side of the 
road. The caption says, "Yessir, we're starved, stalled and 
stranded. " 

Well, when I was driving around the country in 19 34, 
there was more than once when I stopped (because I had pur- 
chased, after running into this experience, a rubber tube) 



184 



where there was a car that was stalled like that, that was 
perhaps trying to go to California. And this might be in 
Iowa, it might be in Arkansas, and the family had no money 
for gasoline. They would stand and wait for a car to come 
along and stop as I did and siphon out a couple of gallons 
of gasoline into their tank and drive on until the gas ran 
out and then wait for another tank, another car, to come 
along. And this was the way they made it across the country. 

Here there's a quotation from a debt-ridden farmer: 
"If they come to take my farm, I'm going to fight. I'd 
rather be killed outright than die by starvation. But before 
I die, I'm going to set fire to my crops, I'm going to burn 
my house, I'm going to p'izen my cattle." They have a 
portrait of two miserable-looking children, barefooted, in 
dirty little smocks, one with dirt all over her face and 
hands and feet (she's gotten into a coal scuttle or some- 
thing) . The room is papered with old newspapers and the 
caption is: "The daughters of a WPA worker and a sick mother 
are left home unattended." A bitter father said, "A worker's 
got no right to have kids any more." Now, they are already 
talking here about the WPA, which means it was under Roosevelt 
when the Works Progress Administration was established in 
order to help people. And it did help people. They were 
much better off than they were under Hoover. But still, 
with two children, and both parents working, they had no one 



185 



to help with the children. Now, I don't want to go on any 
longer. I think these illustrations are sufficient to give 
a tiny indication of a country and a people in great trouble. 

It was against this background that one needs to 
understand the radicalization of a great many people. Here 
is one example of it. The presidential election was on when 
we returned from Los Angeles in October '32. The Communist 
party was running for its candidate a former trade-union 
organizer by the name of William Z. Foster, who was rather 
well known because, among other things, he had led the 
great steel strike of 1919. He was a man with a very 
important labor history behind him who had joined the Commu- 
nist party some years before and had become its secretary. 
It was running as vice-president a man called [James W.] Ford, 
and he was a black man. Now, this in itself was very striking 
because what party in the United States had ever run a black 
man for vice-president? It was something which was a token 
of the best side of the communist movement at that time: 
namely, that it took a position, and a very firm one, against 
discrimination of any kind and for the equality of all peoples. 
Not only that but it had the principle and the, let's say, 
courage to nominate a black man for vice-president. This 
brought a very interesting response. 

I want to quote from a book called The Long View from 
the Left by Al Richmond. He says: 



186 



In 1932 the list of intellectuals who endorsed the 
Communist presidential ticket, William Z. Foster 
and James W. Ford, resembled a who's who in Ameri- 
can arts and letters. . . . 



(I'll interpolate by saying unfortunately he does not give 
the whole who's who. That list exists somewhere. I've 
seen it and I think I probably have it in my own library. 
But I've been unable to locate it in these days, and any- 
body who wants to find it would be able to research it.) 
But going on from the quotation: 



. . . The committee of intellectuals for Foster 
and Ford staged a public meeting at Cooper Union, 
attracting 2000 persons who jammed the hall, and 
an estimated 2500 who were turned away. The pro- 
gram was structured to present the viewpoints of 
several disciplines. . . . Sidney Hook performed 
a philosopher's chore; he was chairman. . . . 



Now, if someone reads this twenty years from now they may 
not know that Sidney Hook, professor of philosophy for many 
years at NYU and now of Stanford, was one of the most promi- 
nent, articulate, active, cerebral a nti -Communists from 
at least 1936 or '37 right on to the present, which is 
19 76. But here he was chairman of the Foster-Ford meeting 
in the fall of October '32. 



. . . Malcolm Cowley presented the viewpoint of 
the critic; James Rorty, of the poet; Hugo Gellert, 
of the graphic artist; John Herman, of the novelist; 
Eugene Gordon, of the black writer. Waldo Frank 
also spoke but I forget whether he doubled in 
some category or had one of his own. . . . 



187 



That's the end of the quotation from Richmond. 

I do know that one of the others who endorsed the 
Foster-Ford platform candidacy was Edmund Wilson, and 
Edmund Wilson at that time was writing in the New Republic 
and saying, "I'm a Marxist." Now, if we add, let's say, 
some hundreds of names or a hundred other names to this list, 
then you begin to get a sample of the temper of the time, 
and how many people at that time must have thought that 
there was a great humane promise in the leadership of the 
Communist party and naturally attached to it what was going 
on in the Soviet Union! 

For myself, this period, during which I was at work 
with my collaborator on a play, was a period of intensive 
reading in Marxist literature. One of the earliest books 
I read, a rather short book, was Friedrich Engels's 
Socialism: Utopian and Scientific . And for a reason that 
I'll explain, I was especially impressed with it. The 
reason is this: I would say that probably at least 50 
percent of my reading of philosophy at college had to do with 
what's called "the problem of knowledge" or epistemology . 
And this was a question that philosophers wrestled with from . 
oh, I guess ... I don't remember now whether ancient 
philosophers, or I ' d say the Greek philosophers, wrestled 
with it quite as much as later philosophers beginning with 
Hume and Locke and others--Spencer , Bradley. But it was 



188 



broadly the question of whether or not, with the senses that 
we have of vision, hearing, touch, taste and so on, we really 
get a true measure of the world; or whether, as it sifts 
through our senses--the sensations come through our senses 
to our brains--it is, let's say, refracted, as the angle of 
a stick may be when it's thrust into water, and that what we 
get is only a partial image and a distorted image of reality. 
Or to give another example, one could have a dream so vivid 
that one wakes up screaming, and yet it was nothing but a 
dream. So how do we know (went the extreme argument) that 
what we think is reality is any more than a dream we are 
having in our own heads? 

Now, philosopher after philosopher wrote books on 
this, wrestled with the problem. There was the famous phrase 
of the French philosopher Descartes, "I think therefore I am," 
which was his attempt in one phrase to sum up the validity 
of his reality. I remember something from Aquinas on the 
question of truth on which he had a little syllogism saying. 
There is no truth: therefore the proposition "there is no 
truth" is true, therefore there is truth. And so, very able 
minds struggled with this for centuries, and we who were 
studying the history of philosophy struggled with each 
philosopher in turn and learned what his thinking had been. 

In this book by Engels he mentions the problem of 
epistemology , and he has a footnote and the footnote says: 



189 



man's practice had solved the problem before man's ingenuity 
had invented it. And it was such an intellectual shock of 
a delightful sort for me to read this and say, "Well, of 
course, that's true." When men had an idea that if they 
walked through a body of water they would drown, and built a 
bridge and safely crossed, their practice solved the problem 
long before some philosopher came along and said, "How do 
you know there's water there?" They had seen somebody drown, 
and they knew there was water there. And I said, well, to 
myself, why didn't some of the instructors of philosophy 
along the way make the observation: Look, this is what this 
philosopher was grappling with here in the eighteenth cen- 
tury, but, in fact, man's practice has solved the problem. 
The problem doesn't exist, and you can predict with science 
that you're going to set a fuse and that a certain building 
will go down with it; and if you think that maybe it's in 
your own mind, you get in that building if you distrust your 
sensations. And the fact that, just in passing, while writing 
a book on another subject, Engels had the intelligence and 
the brilliance to clear away this whole problem in one foot- 
note was very impressive to me. It was an extraordinary 
credential for one of the classicists in Marxism, so far as 
I was concerned. 

But there is something else about the classic litera- 
ture in Marxism which was most impressive to me, and which 



190 



I think is most impressive today, and which influenced me 
very much, and subsequently, I would say, blinded me very 
much to what was going on in the Soviet Union, and it's this: 
if you just read the literature, it is, I think, the noblest 
body of literature ever penned by man, because it speaks of 
the abolition of every type of human exploitation. Its 
goals are the abolition of the exploitation of colonial 
countries by more developed or imperialist countries, the end 
of the exploitation of people of color, or of nonwhites by 
whites, which of course at the time, in the 1930s, when you 
still had the enormous empires of Britain, France, Holland, 
Belgium and others, you had tens of millions of people probably 
living under foreign domination. And it called certainly for 
an end to all ethnic discrimination in all countries. It 
called for an end to exploitation of women by men. In this 
respect, classic Marxist literature, and indeed the platform 
of the Communist party of the United States, anticipated the 
women's liberation thesis — not in all of its aspects, but in 
its fundamentals. Equal pay for equal work was a Communist 
party slogan back in the 1930s, 1920s. It speaks of the end 
of wage slavery, of wage exploitation as defined in communist 
economics. Its declared aims were those of human brotherhood 
on all levels, with mutual respect of all people for one 
another, and for freedom. Marx wrote, "Socialism is the 
kingdom of freedom." The fact that it has not turned out to 



191 



be the kingdom of freedom in the Soviet Union, but in so many 
ways precisely the opposite, is something I came to know, as 
others did, later. But in terms of the literature itself, 
its aspirations and its advocacy, it precisely appealed to all 
of the idealism that not only I as a young man had but 
millions of other young men and women [had] in all countries 
of the world. And this was the reason why, in all countries 
of the world, you had the growth of the communist movement, 
and of those in it or around it who followed its leadership. 
Turn off for a moment, [tape recorder turned off] 

There was at this time as well a great deal of interest 
in what was going on in the Soviet Union. There had been all 
through the twenties a campaign of incredible slander toward 
the Soviet Union which found markets, I think, even in such 
newspapers as the New York Times . (It's noteworthy that the 
first book that brought Walter Lippmann to national attention 
was one done in collaboration, I believe, with another writer, 
and it was an exposeT of the false stories on the Soviet Union, 
I believe — as a matter of fact, the false stories in the 
New York Times .) Because what would happen then, what would 
happen over the twenties, was that a reporter sitting in an 
office in Riga, in Latvia, and never going into Russia, the 
Soviet Union, would write up anything that came to his head, 
or anything that somebody told him. 

For instance, widely accepted in the United States and. 



192 



I suppose, elsewhere in the world was that the advent of 
the communist government in Russia meant the nationaliza- 
tion of women. That was supposed to mean that any man 
could just take any woman sexually if he wanted to. And 
after about a decade of these stories, Lippmann's book 
exploded them, and apparently so demonstrably that I think 
he was subsequently hired by the Mew York Times . So that 
by around 1932, in addition to a continuing campaign of 
that sort which went on eternally in the Hearst press and 
in newspapers of that sort, there were also different 
stories being written about it. And in the meantime, people 
had traveled to the Soviet Union and some with reputations, 
such as Lincoln Steffens, came back to write about it. 
Steffens said, "I've seen the future and it works," a cele- 
brated phrase of his. And other information came back: 
for instance, that there was free medical care, and that 
marriage and divorce were purely matters [to be decided by] 
the individuals involved, that they could marry if they 
wished, and they could divorce when they wished. 

Well, this made a great impression on, let's say, free- 
thinking persons in the United States because the divorce 
laws were much stricter then than they are now. There were 
many people who were caught in miserable marriages who would 
like to have been out of them, but there was no way, say, 
in New York state in which you could get a divorce short of. 



19 3 



I don't know, being in prison like my uncle (my aunt was 
able to get a divorce) . There were a few other situations 
in which you could get a divorce, but in practically no 
other way. I think going to Reno, Nevada, still was some- 
thing, but that was for a minority of people who could afford 
to go, and it was just that divorce was infinitely more 
difficult. So to find a country that said, "Look, marriage 
and divorce are matters of personal decision," was very 
impressive. The fact is, of course, later the Soviet Union 
changed somewhat and made divorce somewhat more difficult. 
But that was the effect then. It also made a great impres- 
sion that abortions were free in the Soviet Union, something 
that we have come to here in a good many states, although 
many people object to it. But it was so then, and for women 
who had perhaps had abortions done under very brutalizing 
circumstances, this was a very meaningful thing. It seemed 
to indicate a society run by humane people. 

At that time also, there were films that were very im- 
pressive that were coming out of the Soviet Union, since they 
had a number of filmmakers, led by Eisenstein, who were very 
innovative in the way they were doing films, so that just 
cinematically they were of profound interest. But in addi- 
tion to that they had a humanism about them which was impres- 
sive. For instance, there was a film called, I think. Wild Boys 
of the Road [Road to Life] , which was based upon a very important 



194 



problem that the Soviet Union had as a result of the years 
of war and civil war and starvation and disease: there 
were inniimerable orphans. And the boys, many of them, 
gathered in bands in which the boys, by being in a band, 
they were supportive; each boy was supportive of others and 
received support. They turned into thieves, and they stole 
in order to survive. They were young thugs. (Since, I've 
read a book about it, and apparently the film was quite 
true to reality.) There was a most admirable teacher who 
conceived of a plan of handling these boys. They were 
rounded up by the police, and the story of the film was 
made of one particular group that he led at the beginning 
where they were put into a decent environment in the country 
and given the opportunity to work, and given food, and 
handled with a certain kind of understanding coupled with 
firmness. It was such a heartwarming study of the way in 
which one particular boy, the leader of the group, began 
to change in a different environment and with different 
handling, and what he turned into. And the film was enor- 
mously successful amongst intellectuals at that time. Every- 
body that one knew said, "Go see it. It's marvelous," and, 
"I've seen it twice or three times." 

There were the classic films like Potemkin , on the fall 
of St. Petersburg, by Eisenstein, which were very exciting 
and in which one felt the excitement of those who had made 



19 5 



the revolution against tyranny. Who can ever forget the 
tremendous scene in Potemkin where the soldiers in white 
uniforms walk down the steps firing volley after volley 
at the civilians, some of whom are demonstrating and some 
of whom are just there, or the baby carriage with a baby 
in it, where the mother is shot and the carriage just keeps 
rolling down the steps in Odessa? And there were not a few 
other films like that. It was a period of very great film- 
making in the Soviet Union, and with great humanism, with 
profound humanism, in the films. 

And all of this was part of what was calculated to 
affect me and others at this time when the situation in our 
own country seemed to be so lacking in hope. What the Soviet 
films brought was a message of hope. They didn't say, 
"Everything is fine here and we have no problems," but they 
said, "We're moving to a brighter future. And this is how 
we're moving and these are our values." Whereas one couldn't 
feel that about the United States, especially at this time 
before Roosevelt was elected. Once Roosevelt came in and 
got his programs started, a new hope did start in the United 
States. But this was still Hoover's time, the bleakest time, 
[sound interference — tape recorder turned off] 



196 



SECOND PART (August 26, 1976) 

GARDNER: You mentioned that you wanted to go back and touch 
some points of your college days. 

MALTZ: Yes. There was something fascinating each year at 
college and that was a debate between the Coliimbia College 
debating team, of which my roommate was a member for two 
years, and either Oxford or Cambridge students, since they 
came in alternate years. The Columbia University students, 
under the guidance of some professor, would prepare them- 
selves on aspects of the topic that had been agreed upon 
beforehand. They would work for months researching it and 
writing their speeches, coordinating ideas, and seeing to it 
that their speeches weren't repetitive. And then, I think, 
almost invariably they would memorize their speeches so 
that they could deliver them in perfect style. The English 
students obviously had not memorized their speeches, and 
it made no difference whether they were from Oxford or 
Cambridge, they had clearly read in the subject and given 
it some thought. They spoke extemporaneously, and invariably 
each one of them was witty in a way that the Columbia students 
were not. It was always much more delightful to listen to 
them than to the Columbia students, and they were always 
awarded the winning side (a palm leaf, or whatever you call 
it) in the debates. This went on, I think, all four years 



197 



of my stay at college. I'm not so sure what all of the les- 
sons are that could be drawn from that: perhaps that there 
is a superiority in the English school system as compared to 
the American; or perhaps not, because if we go into various 
fields of endeavor, I don't know whether per capita the 
endeavor of the English is that much better than the Ameri- 
cans' . And yet there's something there that made me want to 
put it down in this history. 

For instance, I became good friends in Mexico with a 
Hungarian writer [Janos Sz6kely] whose pen name was John Pen. 
When we talked it was constantly obvious to me that the 
breadth of his knowledge as a graduate of a Hungarian uni- 
versity was far greater than mine. He knew more literature, 
and while that in itself could be, oh, partially explained 
by my concentration on philosophy, he knew more history. 
There were few fields in which I didn't feel that this man 
was just better educated than I. (I wanted to identify him 
before by his best-known work, published in English, and 
forgot it for the moment, but it is Temptation . ) And this 
is just a passing observation on the fact that it is my 
general impression that if a serious student emerges from 
an American university, the cultural wealth that he has 
within himself is inferior to that of a graduate of many 
European universities. I'm thinking now of a Czech whom. 
I know; I think the same was certainly true of him. How 



198 



it happens, I don't know. 

Now, to move to another topic. ... My span of life 
has been such that there have been vastly more changes since 
I was born than there would have been if I had been born, I 
think, at a similar time in the nineteenth century. Of 
course there's no way of knowing what the years ahead will 
bring. But when I was a boy in Brooklyn, the fire engines 
were still being drawn by horses, and this continued for 
not a few years. I don't remember exactly when fire engines 
became purely automobiles, fire trucks. One of the exciting 
things was to run down to the corner when we heard the fire 
engines coming out, since there was a fire station about 
five blocks away from my home, because there were Dalmatian 
dogs attached to the fire houses, and they used to run 
alongside of the horses. And it was just tremendously 
exciting to see this pounding of these powerful horses and 
the dogs running along beside them. When I was a boy, also, 
there were very heavy snows in Brooklyn (I don't know whether 
the climate is the same now, or the snowfall is the same; I 
have the impression it may be less) , and frequently there 
was snow packed down on the streets for weeks at a time. 
And local merchants, such as butchers who had deliveries to 
make, would have horsedrawn sleds that would cover the entire 
area in order to make their deliveries. Now, perhaps that 
was due in part because the mechanism of clearing snow from 



199 



the streets was at that time vastly inferior. I don't 
believe there was any mechanical means whatsoever; it was 
just men with shovels. Probably that was a good part of 
it. 

When I moved into the house I lived in when I was 
three years old, there was only gas lighting. Electricity 
did not come in, I think, for, oh, perhaps five, seven, 
eight years. There was no shower bath until about the 
time I went to high school. Before that there was only 
a bath. And as a matter of fact, it was in the high school, 
I recall, that an instructor urged us students to abandon 
the time-honored policy of bathing only once a week and to 
take a shower every day. And it was then for the first time 
that I began to shower. Previous to that it was normal for 
members of my family to take a bath once a week. On Friday 
afternoon it would be my turn, and I can remember how much 
dirt would accumulate between my toes with all the running 
around and playing I did, and not bathing. I don't know 
how often I changed my socks, as a matter of fact. Maybe 
that was only once a week too. 

The automobile was then only in its early stages of 
development. The Model T came along when I was a boy. At 
that time there was not even a gas gauge on the front panel 
of a car. One had to keep a stick handy and constantly watch 
and go back to your gas tank and check, or else you'd stop 



200 



for lack of gas. The airplanes came in primarily with World 
War I, and it was during that time that I saw my first plane. 
Radio didn't come in for people until after World War I, and 
I remember the excitement I had when, I think, around 19 20 
or so my father bought a little radio, and I stayed up as 
late as I could at night because that was when you could 
get to hear out-of-town stations. I remember the excitement 
with which I heard something, I believe, in St. Louis. It 
was tremendously exciting. Such things as pro football, 
basketball, and hockey didn't exist when I was a child. 
Perhaps the most profound change, in one way, affecting the 
life of human beings occurred in the realm of attitudes 
toward sex. 



201 



TAPE NUMBER: V, SIDE TWO 
AUGUST 26, 19 76 

GARDNER: We left off in the middle of your sex education. 
MALTZ: Yes. [laughter] I was saying that the attitudes 
of my parents would have been formed by the prevailing 
level of education and also the level of society at which 
they lived in the 1890s: that is to say, very clearly it 
was Victorian. I'm sure, for instance, that my father, 
entering marriage around . . . let me see . . . just a 
moment please . . . [tape recorder turned off] . . . entering 
marriage around 1900, had no understanding whatsoever of 
the sexual needs or sensitivities of his wife. The stress 
that I received — the only education I received then about 
sex was that any indulgence in it before marriage surely 
resulted in venereal disease. There was never any sugges- 
tion on my father's part that I could buy condoms and avoid 
that. There was certainly no other education of any sort. 
And I remember conversation with a friend at college in which 
he had a lovely fantasy. There was a sister college to 
Columbia, Barnard, only across a wide avenue, really, from 
some of our buildings, but as far different that it might 
have been in Chicago since there was really no contact 
between the two student groups. My friend's fantasy was 
that he would have the ability to go each night to a dif- 
ferent room in the girls' dormitory at Barnard and lay a 

202 



different girl. Now, the extraordinary difference between 
that (and we're speaking now, say, of the year 1926) as 
compared to 19 76, when there are dormitories in which both 
young men and women students live in many American univer- 
sities, is of course an enormous one. And whatever else 
has not improved in, let's say, American life, or whatever 
burdens we have today of pollution that we didn't face fifty 
years ago in our natural environment, that is an enormous 
improvement, I would think, in human well-being. 

Now, paralleling that, there is a very fascinating 
change in the literary field. I think I may have mentioned 
that when George Sklar and I wrote Merry Go Round (this 
being the year 1931 when we wrote it; it went on in '32), 
it was very important to us at one moment in the play to 
have someone call another "bastard." Did I mention that? 
GARDNER: No. 

MALTZ: Oh, well, it was a scene where it called for an 
epithet like that. But, to my best knowledge, the word 
bastard had never been uttered in that way in the American 
theater before that time, and it was part of our young 
rebellious spirits to fight for that right to have that word 
said. And there was uncertainty on the part of various people 
connected with the production, but it was said, and we got 
away with it. Now, on the other hand, around the year 19 35, 
I think, I was down in Philadelphia to, oh, make a speech 



203 



on something or other in connection with a theater there, 

an amateur left-wing theater. That theater had done a 

production of a one-act play of mine. Private Hicks , , 

before an audience consisting of union members and their 

wives. Now, Private Hicks probably had a few similar 

words in it, maybe a few damns and a few hells and so on, 

and the organizer of the union said to the head of the 

theater company that they didn't want them to come back. 

And the theater man said, "Well, what's wrong, didn't you 

like the play?" And he said, "Oh, yeah, it was a good 

play, but we didn't like the language in it." He said, 

"Well, what do you mean, the language?" He said, "Well ..." 

and then he illustrated. And the theater man said, "Well, 

isn't that the way you fellows speak?" And he said, 

"Yeah, but when we're with our women, we don't want words 

like that spoken before them." Now, this was a problem 

that one faced culturally in the year 1935. Twelve years 

later, or eleven years later, in 1946, Little, Brown and Company 

had the opportunity to publish From Here to Eternity by 

Norman Mailer. The chief editor . . . 

GARDNER: From Here to Eternity is James Jones. 

MALTZ: Oh no--yes, I mean. . . . That's right. 

Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer . . . and the chief 

editor and vice-president of the firm which published me, 

and he was a friend of mine, wanted to publish the Mailer 



204 



book, but the head of the company wouldn't do it because 
Mailer used the word fug repeatedly in the text. And that 
was in itself a startling innovation: Mailer was really 
very creative in deciding on using the word fug . Oh, I've 
forgotten something earlier. I had to fight, but I succeeded 
in the fight, in having in my play Black Pit , which was 
produced in 19 35, in showing a pregnant woman with the 
actual silhouette of pregnancy. That also had never been 
shown in the American theater before, to my knowledge, and 
for years afterwards it was never shown in films--a pregnant 
woman could not be shown. You are smiling at this, and 
properly [so] . 

GARDNER: It's incredible to me. And yet, I'm smiling 
because I'm thinking back and making connections and reali- 
zing it's true.' 

MALTZ : Yes, and you see that's one of the values of this 
kind of an oral history. Because you wouldn't think of it, 
but having experienced it, I know that it took place. As 
a matter of fact, when we come to a discussion of films, 
I really should have here the Hays Code as to the kinds of 
things you could and could not do. 

While I'm at it, for instance, you could not all through 
the twenties and the thirties and the forties and, I believe, 
the fifties, and I don't know when it stopped, you could not 
show a husband and wife in the same bed: you had to have 



205 



twin beds. And so many of these changes occurred after 
World War II and increasingly as the years went into the 
fifties and sixties. This becomes all the more interesting 
when you contrast it with cultural attitudes in different 
countries. For instance, I was told in the thirties that 
German literature, which I don't read in the original, had 
all of the words that we were not allowed to have. I'd like 
to have that checked by someone, but I do know from an 
American who has been living in China since the late forties, 
and with whom I was in correspondence in the fifties, that 
in China at that time there was no word that was forbidden 
for anyone to say. Anyone of any age said any word that 
existed in the language. This is still different, say, in 
France , where there has been for years much greater license 
to use words but where certain words continue to be really 
too vulgar to be said. Apparently nothing is too vulgar to 
be said in China; but on the screen, at least in the fifties, 
a man and a woman could not kiss. So these cultural elements 
vary and change in different societies at different times, 
and we finally have come to, let's say, the word enlighten- 
ment that other countries reached long before us. 

It was just last night that I picked up a magazine that 
I suppose I have read something in three or four times in 
my life, and that's McCall's magazine. I saw it near my 
wife's bed, and I saw that it had a couple of short stories 



206 



in it, and I wanted to read it. I was just flabbergasted 
to see the word fuck in McCall ' s magazine. Now, I don't 
know when it came into usage there, but not having seen it 
for a great many years, I would never have expected that it 
would be there. And so it is that language changes. And 
now turn a page and get to 19 32. . . . [tape recorder 
turned off] 

In the summer of 1932, while George Sklar and I were 
in Hollywood, the tremendously important Bonus Expeditionary 
Force march occurred in Washington. This was a gathering 
of thousands of World War I veterans in Washington asking 
that they be given a $300 bonus each, which had been prom- 
ised them for the year 1945 by some legislation that had 
already been passed. (Now, I'm not absolutely sure it was 
$300. I think it was, I'm not quite sure, but I may be a 
little bit in error on that.) There certainly was organi- 
zation of Right, Center, and Left behind the coming of these 
veterans to Washington, but they wouldn't have come if there 
hadn't been an enormous, spontaneous response on the part 
of individual veterans of all shades of political ideas, 
or of no political ideas, to the slogan of Give Us the Bonus 
Now. On June 7 some 7,000 veterans paraded in Washington. 
Now, if you realize that this was summer of '32, and, let's 
say, a good many of these men had been demobilized as veterans 
in, say, the summer of 1918, you've had fourteen years pass 



207 



during which a great many of them were members of the American 
Legion, which stood for everything patriotic and nationalist 
in the United States; and yet here in this economic crisis, 
many of them were workingmen without jobs, and farmers who 
had lost farms, and white-collar workers who had lost jobs, 
and they came to plead with their government for some money. 
The parade was not interfered with, but it was clear that 
the officials of the government . with the president then being 
Herbert Hoover, wanted them to go home after their parade. 

But instead of going home, they began to build shacks 
in a nearby area called Anacostia Flats, next to the Anacostia 
River. They also got the use of a good many tents, and I 
don't know who supplied the tents. By the end of the week 
of June 7, 4,000 more veterans had poured into Washington. 
In mid-June, some of these veterans had moved into certain 
vacant sites near the city center, not too far from the 
Capitol and the White House. 

Increasingly in those weeks, the press in general 
played a role of fomenting hysteria about the presence of 
these veterans in Washington. Increasingly they were called 
Reds. One banner headline said that dynamite had been seized 
at the Anacostia camp. Some vets coming in a boxcar through 
close-by Alexandria, Virginia, were declared to have been 
carrying arms, and it was asserted that they were disarmed. 
To my best knowledge, these headlines were fabrications^ 



208 



and they were part of the right-wing, deeply reactionary 
attitudes of the publishers of most newspapers at that time. 

And as a result of this campaign and of other factors, 
on July 28 cavalry and tanks under General MacArthur drove 
the bonus marchers out of Washington, with bayonets and gas 
grenades. Two babies died because of the gassing (since some 
families had come along with the ex-soldiers) , and two of the 
men died by bullets fired by the police. This sent an 
enormous shock wave through the entire country, and was 
something that orators would always refer to throughout the 
thirties: these men had fought for their country, and yet 
this was how they were being treated. And it was events like 
this that helped radicalize me. 

In the fall of that year, there was another such event. 
I have mentioned the Unemployed Councils which were led by 
Communists, but of course there would have been no one in 
them if the Communists who were leading them had been advo- 
cating policies that the people in them didn't like. I 
mention this, and perhaps I'll pause over it for a moment, 
because even people who pretend to be serious scholars have 
often accepted a kind of a myth about the communist movement: 
that somehow Communists conspire behind the scenes and thereby 
successfully influence people to do certain things. In a 
curious way this is the other side of the coin from the Hitler 
thesis that international Jewish bankers manipulated England 



209 



and France and the United States into doing certain things. 
How this manipulation occurred is explained in neither situa- 
tion. It is just a myth. 

As an excellent example of this myth, at lunch I was 
reading about a period through which I lived, but about 
events of which I remembered little because I hadn't 
participated in them, and that was the activities of the 
Theater Arts Committee in the Left theater in New York. 
It was enormously successful. It was a movement to do 
skits and songs and burlesque and review material before 
audiences in nightclubs, and it attracted a great many 
people in the theater at that time. Maybe later, when I 
come to discussing the thirties, I'll read the names of 
some of the people who were involved, because it is very 
interesting. But after the Soviet-Nazi pact of August 
1939, when this group, which had been led by Communists, 
also supported the line of the Communist party, practically 
all of its membership fell away. It suddenly lost its 
ability to "manipulate" people, to cunningly make them 
follow its will. Obviously people don't go where they don't 
want to go. But if the abolitionists at a given period, 
or the I\W [Industrial Workers of the World] at another 
period, or the Roosevelt New Deal at another period offers 
a program that people need, then they will follow it. And 
so now I come back to the leadership of the Communists in 



210 



the Unemployed Councils. Those unemployed by the many 
thousands who joined the councils would not have had any- 
thing to do with it if the leadership had been proposing 
slogans and programs that they didn't like. And in 19 32, 
in the fall, there was a mobilization on the part of the 
Unemployed Councils to travel to Washington from all over 
the United States in order to present certain demands to 
the government for aid to the unemployed. 

Now, it was called a march but in fact the men and 
women who went on it came in trucks. Of course, to go in 
a truck from California or Texas to Washington is no small 
matter. Sometimes I believe there were places en route in 
which homes were found where they could sleep through a 
night, perhaps have a bath, but often they were passing 
through alien territory or unfriendly territory, and there 
was no such opportunity. And so people slept in the trucks, 
and perhaps there were two drivers and they just drove day 
and night. I don't remember any longer, and I haven't 
been able to pause to research, find out how many thousands 
finally arrived in Washington, but there were hundreds of 
trucks and I would think. . . . Those who came were dele- 
gates from councils, each delegate representing 50, 25, 100, 
200 people, I have no idea anymore. But I would think there 
probably were at least 1,500, 1,000, or 2,000 people who came; 
I don't think it was any more [than that]. There had been 



211 



a request on the part of the Uneitiployed Coiincil in New York 
and several other eastern cities for professionals to go 
down to Washington in support of this hunger march, and I 
was one of a group that came down from New York. 

When the trucks came together and the first trucks 
came along, they were directed by the Washington police in 
such a way that they ended up on what was called a viaduct. 
Now, I 've looked up--it was an unfinished viaduct--! 've 
looked that up and the word viaduct speaks of a crossing 
over a bridge. I don't remember whether this crossed over 
a bridge. I remember a very large expanse of concrete 
with kind of a steep hill on one side, very steep, and a 
rolling rise on the other, and I remember it more as a 
kind of an unfinished freeway. But in any instance, it 
was quite easy for the police, once having directed the 
trucks into this area, to then bottle them up so that there 
was no escape for them; they could not go forward or back- 
ward, and they couldn't drive to either side. And there 
they were kept. It was very cold. I remember at night 
that the police had bonf ires--those in front and on the 
side, on the rolling side, had bonfires — and they stood 
around it, as a matter of fact, doing a good deal of 
drinking. The people were not able to make bonfires because 
there was no wood for them. In addition to the cold they 
had the fatigue of their rides, a good many of them for 



212 



very long distances. A lot of them suffered from a kind of 
truck sickness, which turned out, I think, pretty much to 
be constipation, because they hadn't been able to make 
regular stops. And although they were bottled up there, 
no sanitary facilities were provided for them. And as a 
result, when the women walked off into this rolling area, 
they were subjected to the jibes of policemen who were lined 
up there . 

The action of the government and police in doing this 
was not wholly approved of by the newspapers. I remember 
at least one cartoon in one paper in which it showed a 
small group of people in their trucks and surrounding them 
on all sides, a ridiculous number of planes, tanks, soldiers, 
howitzers, machine guns, and so on. It made absurd what 
had been done for them. I remember having dinner one night 
at the home of Robert Allen, the columnist, political columnist, 
who was in fact the brother of Paul Peters, one of the 
playwrights who was a member of the Theatre Union, which I 
have yet to describe. And he was upset by the unnecessary 
cruelty and hysteria surrounding this event and was doing 
all he could with people in Congress whom he knew to try 
and get the situation changed. One tiny grace note, for 
those who may have read something by Edward Dahlberg: there 
was an office of the Unemployed Councils in Washington, and 
a ntmiber of us assembled there one day to do various things 



213 



in an effort to relieve the situation of the people in the 
viaduct. I know that I took on the task of writing a 
leaflet. I sat down at a typewriter (although that was not 
my normal way of writing) , and after I had been there about 
a minute or two or three, I was rudely pushed away from the 
typewriter, physically pushed away by Dahlberg, who said, 
"You don't know how to write a leaflet." And although my 
immediate reaction was to clip him in the jaw for the way 
he had handled me -- mishandled me--I didn't [laughter] be- 
cause of the common purpose and the circiomstances . Whether 
he wrote a satisfactory leaflet, I have no idea. But this 
is rather typical of our friend Dahlberg. [laughter] 

There was one afternoon in which rather an extra- 
ordinary thing occurred. When it became clear that the 
hunger marchers were not going to be allowed their march 
in Washington, the leadership, headed by a man called 
Herbert Benjamin (whom I subsequently met some years later, 
more than ten years later, I guess, and was then no longer 
politically active) — but, led by him, the marchers assembled 
and said that they were going to have their march on the 
viaduct. As I recall, there was much on this in the previous 
twenty-four hours in the newspaper about what the police 
would do if they attempted to break through the police lines. 
And long before the hour at which this was to take place 
(it was in the daytime) , the lines of the police were heavily 



214 



reinforced. So that when the march started, the police 
were there with rifles to their shoulders, and shotguns, 
and I don't recall whether or not they had machine guns as 
well. The marchers, moving from about 400 yards or so, as 
I best recall, away from the police lines, moved steadily 
toward them, I suppose singing a song like "Solidarity 
Forever" (whether or not they had any musical instruments, 
I don't recall). And yard by yard, as they approached the 
police lines and as the safety catches were pushed off on 
the weapons, the situation became more and more tense. But 
then about perhaps ten yards from the police lines, the 
leading line swung around and moved back, and the whole line 
of marchers turned. It was not, I think, an empty gesture; 
on the contrary, for these men and women who had been locked 
up and kept in n;iserable circumstances for a num.ber of days 
and nights (I don't remember how long), it was a gesture of 
their defiance and their determination that they would 
continue to struggle for what they wanted. 

I think it was that night that Michael Blankfort, 
who had been the producer of Merry Go Round and was with 
us, did something which required a lot of nerve and a lot 
of feeling. The chief of police came to the viaduct to 
look Over the situation. I believe that there had been 
some agreement (I'm not sure of this) beforehand that women 
could be taken out and put into homes that the Unemployed 



215 



Council in Washington had secured for them. Blankfort just 
said that he was a member of the Civil Liberties Union, and 
I remember the chief of police immediately cautioning 
several of his underlings that the Civil Liberties Union was 
a different kind of an outfit from the Red organizations. 
And from then on he consulted with Blankfort about what to 
do, and I know that through Blankfort 's intercession in 
this nervy role things were speeded up. I believe more 
people got out than would have because I think it was a 
question not just of women but of those men who were ill. 
I recall at the time that a black church was put at the 
disposal of the Unemployed Councils where the people could 
lie on the floor or be on chairs or benches, and where there 
was some warmth . . . and toilets. At the same time, this 
being the sort of interplay that occurs in such situations, 
about every third or fourth taxi going out past the police 
lines had its tires pierced by ice picks, so that they 
came to a halt within a few yards and had to change a tire. 

I do remember another little footnote: that was the 
first time I ever saw Michael Gold. He was there with a 
rather large group that had come down from New York, and I 
saw him taking voluminous notes during the days that the 
people were bottled up there. And if ever someone looked 
like a "proletarian" writer, it was Michael Gold--very 
handsome in a craggy way. And I would have said, surely 



216 



out of this will come some wonderful book, since by that time 
I had read his fine book Jews Without Money and thought that 
he had a big talent. Jews Without Money was really an auto- 
biographical book rather than a novel. And Gold did have 
talent, but, as I discovered later, he completely lacked what 
the greatest majority of writers must have, and that's the 
dedication to his work--a dedication to his work sufficient 
to command him to write and rewrite until what he was after 
was good. I later came to know a woman who had lived with 
him for a number of years and she explained how he would write, 
He would write a short story and give it to her to read, and 
she would say, "I like it, Mike, but I think it would be 
improved if you would do such and such and such and such." 
And he would say, "Yes, you are right." And then some weeks 
later, she might say, "What happened to that story? Did 
you rewrite it?" And he'd say, "No, I decided not to rewrite 
it. I just sent it out to a magazine. If they want to 
print it, let them; if not, to hell with it." He just didn't 
have within him the ability to sit and work at a piece of 
material. As a result, his life consisted mainly just of 
journalism in which he did some fine things and some things 
that were not fine. But it's a very interesting sidelight 
on one of the aspects of writing since there was no question 
of his basic talent. 

This is all that I want to say about that particular 



217 



incident of the Unemployed Councils. But like the bonus 
march, it was such a cruel example of naked repression that 
it continued for me the radicalizing process. Because there 
was no reason whatsoever why 1,000 to 2,000 people could not 
have marched in Washington. They were not dangerous. They 
had no weapons. Even if every one of them had had a machine 
gun, they were still helpless before the might of the U.S. 
Army and the police force and the FBI and whatever else. 
It was just ridiculous to treat them that way, and it seemed 
as though everything that one might read in the Daily Worker 
or the New Masses about the cruelty of capitalism was being 
played out before one's eyes. 

During this year and beginning in the previous year, 
I believe, and to continue on for some years after, there 
was the terrible case of the nine Scottsboro boys, ranging 
in age I think from fourteen to about eighteen, who had all 
been accused of raping two white girls on a railroad train 
moving through Alabama. The youngsters had denied the rape, 
and it was quite conclusively proved later that they were 
innocent of it, but they were held guilty and, . . . Were 
they all sentenced to death? All of them except perhaps the 
youngest. There is much source material on this, so I don't 
have to bother to verify it. But it was a terrible case, and 
the case took a sharp turn in the year '32, or '33 I think, 
when one of the two girls. Ruby Bates, repudiated her 



218 



testimony after seeing the Protestant clergyman, Fosdick, 
in New York City, and said that it had not been true. I 
subsequently met her and spoke on a platform with her, and 
I'll deal with that when the time comes. But inasmuch as 
the horror and disgrace and undemocratic nature of racial 
discrimination was one of the earliest aspects of my social 
awareness, I was especially sensitive to this issue of the 
Scottsboro boys. I know I gave money to their legal defense. 
I'm sure I signed petitions for them. I seem to remember 
that I did some public speaking for them, but I'm not abso- 
lutely sure of it. You want to. . . ? [tape recorder 
turned off] 

At this point, in order to present what my own psy- 
chology was, I'd like to mention some facts about the world 
in which I was living. And I would say--emphasize--I was 
living day to day; by that I mean that each day's newspapers 
brought with them new horrors. Hitler became chancellor of 
Germany on January 30, 19 33. He became chancellor not because 
he had the majority of votes of the people--he didn't. Be- 
cause in the last election, before he became chancellor, his 
total vote had fallen, I believe, from 38 percent to 32 per- 
cent. His was the largest party of all the parties, but it 
was not a majority party. However, he was offered the 
chancellorship by President Hindenburg and he accepted. 

I want to refer now to a book on the history of that 



219 



period, before and later, called The Cold War and Its Origins 
by D.F. Fleming. This is a very long, two-volume work which 
begins in the year 1917 and goes to 1960. Professor Fleming 
is a professor emeritus at the moment of Vanderbilt Univer- 
sity. And I think that this is the most objective and 
perhaps most extraordinary work of political history that 
I've ever read. The man's knowledge and sources are enor- 
mous, his presentation extraordinarily clear, his ability 
to sum up a year on a page is unuaual, and it is, I think, 
an indispensable reference work for the years that he 
covered. He says about this period before Hitler took power 
the following: "With equal blindness the Kremlin continued 
to support the German Communists in their fratricidal war 
with the German Socialists, until Hitler mastered both of 
them." I want to stop and comment on that because I have 
a strong belief about it that I haven't particularly seen 
expressed elsewhere. (For all I know, it has been expressed 
many times, and I merely have not read it elsewhere.) 



220 



TAPE NUMBER: VI, SIDE ONE 
AUGUST 26, 1976 

GARDNER: You were about to. . . . 

MALTZ : What Fleming was referring to is the policy that 
the German Communists pursued from the 1920s right through 
to Hitler's accession to pov;er--a policy called "social 
fascism." Now, the origin of this policy came about in 
1918 or '19 when there was an unsuccessful revolt in Germany 
led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. This was in the 
period after the disastrous German defeat in World War I, 
and I believe it was called the Spartacus rebellion [Spar- 
ticist revolt--January 1919] (I can't be sure of that without 
looking up the data) . In any instance, it was decidedly a 
Communist- led revolt, which was put down in very bloody 
fashion by the government (which was then, as I recall, in 
the hands of the Social Democratic party) . 

As a result of this action, the Communist International, 
which was an association of all Communist parties led by the 
Communist party in the Soviet Union, and therefore by Stalin 
himself, adopted a political line which declared that the 
Socialist leadership was not Socialist but was social fas- 
cist. Under this political line. Communists should always 
try to have association and political unity with rank-and- 
file Socialists, but never with the Socialist leadership. 



221 



The result of this, of course, was to maintain and deepen 
the hostility between the Socialist and Communist leader- 
ships. In addition, the Socialists had been, before the 
war--and continued to be after the war--the leaders of the 
German trade unions. I think I might add something. There 
was a great betrayal of the working class, the organized 
working class of Europe in World War I, and this is how it 
occurred. 

Shortly before World War I, the First International of 
working-class parties, led by the Socialists, met and de- 
clared that in the event of war the Socialists and Socialist- 
led workers would not support their own governments: that 
they wanted peace, and they didn't want to participate in 
the slaughter of workers from other countries. But, in fact, 
when World War I broke out, all of the Socialist parties of 
Europe without exception supported their own governments. 
And throughout the four years of World War I, there was the 
spectacle of Socialists from Germany shooting at Socialists 
from France, and workers of France killing workers of Germany, 
and so on. And this, too, lay behind the doctrine adopted 
by the Communist International of social fascism. 

As a result of this doctrine, the German Communists 
established German-led trade unions, and those Socialist 
workers who followed the Communist party broke away from 
the Socialist unions and joined the Communist unions; and 



222 



others who were not Communist party members joined the 
Communist unions. But the Socialists still continued to 
lead by far the strongest unions as a whole. This action 
and this doctrine on the part of the Communist International 
and the German Communist party, however much it may have 
been justified in their minds when it originated, had 
clearly become out of date when the rise of the Hitler 
movement and its growing strength quite obviously threat- 
ened but the Socialist and the Communist parties, and 
the intellectuals and others in Germany. Two neighbors 
may have been deeply hostile for a long time, but if a fire 
comes into their area that threatens to burn both their 
houses down, it is certainly the part of stupidity if they 
don't join hands to try and put the fire out. 

The Communists did not join hands with the Socialists, 
not with their leadership. As a matter of fact, very late 
in the game, on some tricky issue or another, the Communists 
voted side by side with the Nazis in the Reichstag. Now, 
the failure to perceive that the situation had changed 
enormously and that a peace had to be made with the Socialist 
leadership against a greater common enemy was directly the 
result of Comintern policy, or the Communist International 
policy. (For the moment I forget: there's a differentia- 
tion between Comintern and Communist International, and I 
forget it. Maybe Comintern was later than the Communist 



223 



International.) But the Communist International policy, in 
turn, had been formulated by Stalin and could be changed 
only by Stalin, because such was Stalin's grasp on the entire 
international Communist movement. 

Now, I don't know the history of Germany intimately 
enough, but I would say just offhand that I wouldn't absolve 
the Socialist leadership of certain failures it must have 
probably committed in that period. But it does seem to me, 
as I look, back upon it, that the prime reason for the con- 
tinued disunity of Socialists and Communists in the face of 
the rise of Hitler was the policy enunciated, the policy 
formulated by Stalin and kept in command for far too long. 
In March 23, 1933 — that is just about three months after 
he became chancellor--Hitler was given dictatorial powers. 
GARDNER: How aware were you of not simply Hitler's succes- 
sion--which was of course in the papers and so on--but of 
the interplay of the Communists, Nazis, and so forth at the 
time? And how much of this was sort of review? 
MALTZ : At that time I was certainly not aware of what I 
have just been talking about. As a matter of fact, I would 
say that I had not formulated the culpability of Stalin in 
all of this until, oh, three, four years ago. I hadn't 
dwelt on it, or I hadn't formulated it. I think perhaps 
it was the reading of the Fleming book about three years ago 
that brought about this realization. And I haven't tested 



224 



what I have just put down here, what I've just spoken, with 
some friends who would have some knowledge of the period and 
ideas of their own. I expect to do so with someone in the 
course of the next week or so, and I will be interested to 
see whether I change my mind at all. But for the moment it's 
in order and I want to put it down. 

Hitler received dictatorial powers after the carefully 
staged burning of the German parliament, the Reichstag, by 
the Nazis (who blamed it upon the Communists) , and after the 
forcible dissolution of all other parties, except the National 
Socialist party, and of the trade unions, and of the immediate 
outbreak of violence that began with the official and 
unofficial arrest of Communist and Socialist trade union 
leaders and various left-wing intellectuals, the beatings 
and torture that began in Nazi headquarters, and the open 
violence against Jews. I am not going here to go into that 
because anyone reading this oral history who wants more 
information will have more than enough sources to which to 
go. But I merely want to register these things as horrors 
on an enourmous scale that affected my consciousness and 
passions and that of, I think, many millions of others. On 
May 10 the same year, 1933, there was another terrible, ter- 
ribly shocking event: the burning of books that the Nazis 
staged opposite the University of Berlin. You want to shut off 
for a moment, I want to get. . . . [tape recorder turned off] 



225 



Many of the books tossed into the flames in 
Berlin that night by the joyous students [Nazi 
students, of course] under the approving eye of 
Dr. Goebbels, had been written by authors of 
world reputation. 

(I'm quoting now from William Shirer, page 241, in 

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.) 



They included, among German writers, Thomas and 
Heinrich Mann, Lion Feuchtwanger , Jakob Wasser- 
mann, Arnold and Stefan Zweig, Erich Maria Remarque, 
Walther Rathenau, Albert Einstein, Alfred Kerr, 
and Hugo Preuss, the last named being the scholar 
who had drafted the Weimar Constitution. But not 
only the works of dozens of German writers were 
burned. A good many foreign authors were also 
included: Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Helen Keller, 
Margaret Sanger, H.G. Wells, Havelock Ellis, 
Arthur Schnitzler, Freud, Gide, Zola, Proust. 
In the words of a student proclamation, any book 
was condemned to the flames which acts subversively 
on our future or strikes at the root of German 
thought, the German home and the driving forces 
of our people. 



I just want to pause and say that, while not at all 
subscribing to the belief (that not a few people have) 
that the Communist dictatorship in Russia, or let's say 
the Stalinist dictatorship and the Nazi dictatorship are 
the same (because I don't believe this at all), never- 
theless, in the insistence on books that serve the state, 
there is an identity here of policy. Now, it is true that 
you will find a Jack London and Upton Sinclair and 
H.G. Wells and Sola and Proust in the Lenin Library in 
Moscow. But I think it is also true that you would not 



226 



find Freud: he would probably be restricted to maybe a 
psychological library, and you'd have to get permission 
to read him. Nor would you find Havelock Ellis on the 
general lists there. However, the important thing is the 
shock that my friends and I felt at this burning of books 
and burning of authors we cherished, and what it meant 
about the Nazi system. I remember that I attended a 
meeting of the John Reed Club at which protests were voted 
and sent to the German government about this book burning 
and about the arrest of certain figures we had heard about. 
(The John Reed Club, incidentally, was a literary cultural 
organization with branches in various cities in the United 
States, organized by the Communist party. I forget just 
when it was organized. It was around when I came down to 
live in New York after Yale, and I went to some of its 
meetings, and I know I was present at this one.) 

Later that year, both Japan and Germany resigned from 
the League of Nations , And while the League of Nations 
had not proved to be the international organization that 
President Wilson had hoped it would be, nevertheless its 
seat in Geneva was a place where nations could meet and 
talk and debate, and there was something clearly ominous 
about the decision of Japan and Germany to resign. Can we 
just turn it off for a moment? [tape recorder turned off] 



227 



In the United States, during this period of the coming 
to power of fascism in Germany, there was quite an opposite 
phenomenon--the assumption of office by Franklin Roosevelt 
and the beginnings of the New Deal. [It is] perhaps 
illustrative of the differences between the two countries 
that some of the instructors I had known at college, like 
Rexford Guy Tugwell, who had taught a couple of classes 
that I had, and Raymond Moley, went to Washington as impor- 
tant advisers to Roosevelt. And various students who had 
become attorneys, whose decency and humanity I knew, went 
down to Washington to work in the agriculture department 
and in other phases of government. And certainly, contrary 
to the burning of books, you had a significant cultural 
advancement under Roosevelt when the government sponsored 
the WPA theater and dance and art projects in an effort to 
give artists a minimum amount of support in those very 
difficult economic times. What resulted from this action 
under Roosevelt was quite a burgeoning of artistic activity. 
I still have on my shelves the magnificent WPA set of 
guidebooks about all of the different states in the United 
States which were written by writers under the project and 
which researched all aspects of every state in the union. 
And it was under WPA that the United States made one of its 
two rather unique contributions to dramaturgy that I know 
about, and that was the living newspaper, which was a very 



228 



exciting form of journalistic drama, which we could use in 
the theater today, but it perhaps would be too expensive for 
commercial production. The only other American contribution 
that I know of which was, let's say, decidedly American was 
the development of the musical comedy in the form that we 
know it here. 

At the same time, during these early years of the 
Roosevelt New Deal and stretching right up throughout the 
thirties, reaching a peak in '37 and '38, there were labor 
struggles for elementary rights, the right to form a union, 
an independent union, being the most fundamental one. 
Because in that period in American life many of the indus- 
trial companies formed their own unions; this was their way 
of trying to assure their workers that they were indeed a 
member of the union. in fact, these unions were responsive 
not to the needs of the workers but to the needs of the 
company. And so they were called company unions. Side by 
side with that, there was a tremendous use, by large 
companies especially, of detective agencies and hired thugs 
to see to it that no independent unions were formed. To be 
a union member at that time, let's say in the year 19 34, in 
auto, or in steel, or in electrical manufacturing plants, 
or among seamen, to be a member, that is to say, of an 
independent union was first of all to be a secret member. 
If you did not keep your membership secret, you were liable 



229 



from anything to being fired from your job and being black- 
listed throughout the given industry in which you worked 
to a beating, to death. And all of these occurred to indi- 
viduals whose membership in unions was discovered. And 
since my sympathies lay with all of those men and women 
who worked on jobs where their wages might be thirty cents 
an hour; where the conditions of their work were such that 
often they were not given permission even to go to the 
toilet; where there was a great lack of safety devices of 
all sorts so that the accident rate, from lost fingers to 
corroded lungs to death, was enormously higher than it need 
have been. ... At this point I find I don't remember how 
I began my sentence, but I'll let you do some editing to 
fiK it up. Unless we want to reverse and let me hear. . . , 
But I'm painting a picture, in brief, as I wanted to be, 
of industrial conditions where my sympathy lay with the 
working people, who were being frightfully exploited and 
abused. 

Throughout this entire year, the Scottsboro case 
continued, and it was in March of this year that Ruby Bates 
reversed her testimony and said she had not been raped by 
the Scottsboro boys. And I believe that it was in the year 
19 3 3 that another case came up and got national attention — 
and that was the Angelo Herndon case. 

Angelo Herndon was a young black man (it so happens an 



230 



exceedingly handsome man) who was framed on some charge or 
other (I don't remember what anymore, and I haven't paused 
for research) , but he was finally freed, as the Scottsboro 
boys were saved from death, by the intercession of the Inter- 
national Labor Defense. Now, I mention this because once 
again we find an organization with Communists in leadership 
and control. It took principle and it took courage for 
attorneys of the ILD to go into the Deep South, in the face 
of what the Deep South was in the year 1932 and '33, where 
lynching could be the price they paid, and there to fight 
in court against a frame-up of black men. And I was aware 
of the nature of the ILD and what it was accomplishing. 

Nineteen thirty-three was also a year of considerable, 
very profound, personal importance to me. My father became 
fatally ill in January. It was the recurrence of a cancer 
which had been dealt with surgically in the summer before, 
and he died early in February. And in October my mother, 
who had fallen ill some months later, also died. Very 
strangely, she died on my twenty-fifth birthday, and it was 
on my thirty-ninth birthday that I testified in Washington 
before the House Committee on Un-7^erican Activities (a 
double coincidence which I just happened to recognize when 
I was writing these notes) . 

In that year, when personal affairs permitted, 
George Sklar and I continued our work on the play Peace on Earth, 



231 



and in the spring of that year, 1933, it was accepted by 
the Executive Board of the Theatre Union for production as 
its first play. We had revisions to do, which we promptly 
began to work on and which we worked on through the summer. 
In the spring, and at various times during the summer and 
in the early fall, one of the things that I did was to read 
the play to groups of individuals, who would be gathered in 
a home, in order that we might raise money. We'd say, "Here's 
the play we want to do, and what money can you give us?" 
And in September we began casting the play. And now I want 
to go into the whole story of the Theatre Union, which played 
an important part in my life in those years. [tape recorder 
turned off] 

I was a member of the Theatre Union Executive Board 
from the time that serious planning first began on the part 
of the Executive Board in the fall of 1932 until the time 
that we dissolved the theater, through our inability to 
handle its mounting debt, in the summer of 19 37 — almost 
five years of very intensive work, and a period important in 
my life, and so I want to give relevant information as briefly 
as I can. The leading spirit in the organization of the 
theater was Charles Rumford Walker, who was a man in his 
early forties when the theater began. And although others 
who joined the theater board were of great importance in its 
functioning, I don't think the theater would have come into 



232 



existence without Walker because he was the man who raised 
most of the money for our first several productions, par- 
ticularly the first. He was able to do this because he was 
a Yale graduate and numbered some wealthy men among his 
friends. George Sklar was also a Yale graduate but had not 
had friends on the same economic level as Charles Walker. 
The group that came together was an interesting one because, 
unlike those who made up the directorship of the Group Theatre 
or the Theatre Guild, all of whom were theater people, only 
a portion of the Executive Board of the Theatre Union was 
made up of people whose prime interest and training had been 
in the theater: these were George Sklar, Paul Peters, 
Michael Blankfort, and myself, and within another year, 
Victor Wolf son. But important in the Executive Board were 
Mary Fox, who was a leading member of the Socialist party 
and a director of an organization called the League for 
Industrial Democracy, and Samuel Friedman, another member 
of the Socialist party who was, I believe, one of the editors 
of the New Leader . [Then there was] Listen Oak, who was a 
Communist party member and who worked in different mass 
organizations in one leadership capacity or another, minor 
leadership, and Manuel and Sylvia Gomez. Sylvia Gomez was 
an actress without much of a career behind her, but that was 
her orientation. Manuel Gomez had been a Communist party 
member until about five years before and had been one of 



233 



the leaders of some anti-imperialist organization during the 
twenties when the United States sent troops into Nicaragua 
and other Latin American countries. He was now, under another 
name, a columnist in the Wall Street Journal , of all places. 
And finally, there was a former newspaperwoman and trade 
union publicist, Margaret Larkin. 

Now, I go into these different names because, although 
they are mentioned in at least one of the books that I am 
going to mention myself here, they aren't mentioned with the 
real meaning of these names made clear. This was a unique 
coming together of people who had training as organizational 
leaders, but not specifically in the theater, although they 
were interested in the theater, and of those who had training 
in the theater but no organizational experience. And the 
day after our first production opened, this peculiar meld 
began to take on an unusual dynamic--something I think that 
had probably never been seen before in the American profes- 
sional theater. There's perhaps another reason for my going 
into this in the way I'm going to: the records of the 
Theatre Union, for the most part, were given to the New York 
Public Library when the organization ceased to exist, and then 
by the New York library to the library of Lincoln Center. 
And a scholar whom I know in New York had occasion to look 
at these records about five or six years ago. He told me 
that they were in an absolutely deplorable state: that they 



234 



are so faded and they've been so badly kept that they're 
likely pretty soon just to fall to pieces. And so I want 
to use this opportunity to give my point of view of what I 
remember about this organization. 

Now, I do want to mention that there are a number of 
books that I'm aware of (and perhaps some that I'm not 
aware of) that deal with the Theatre Union as part of a 
study of the theater in the United States in the 19 30s. 
The two best of these books that I know are The Political Stage , 
by Malcolm Goldstein (published by Oxford University Press) , 
and Stage Left , by Jay Williams (published by Scribner's). 
Absolutely the worst is a book called Drama Was a Weapon by 
Morgan Himelstein (published by Putgers University Press) . 
[Another] one, of which I haven't read much, but the little 
I've read dismays me, although it may be that the author had 
certain things of value in it, [is] called People's Theatre 
in Amerika . America is spelled A-M-E-R-I-K-A, and anything 
spelled that way impresses me badly. This is, I suppose, 
an author of the New Left in the sixties and, as I understand 
it, the spelling of America in that way is supposed to indi- 
cate that America is a fascist country. And the author of 
this nonsensical title is Karen Malpede Taylor. I'll have 
more to say about the Himelstein book as I go on. 

It's very interesting to see the list of people who were 
willing to have their names used as part of the advisory 



235 



board of the Theatre Union. Now, in fact, I doubt whether 
very much advice came from these individuals. Advisory 
board [is] another name, really, for sponsors, or "Go ahead, 
fellas, we hope you do well." But among the advisers, among 
the advisory board, were Sherwood Anderson, Paul Muni the 
actor (very celebrated then), John Dos Passes, Elmer Rice, 
Edmund Wilson, Morrie Ryskind (who later became a very bitter, 
savage, an ti -Communist columnist), Roger Baldwin (one of 
the heads of the American Civil Liberties Union) , and 
Stephen Vincent Benet. And this is a comment on the temper 
of the times. It has for me the same meaning as the list 
of names, the partial list of names I read earlier, of those 
who supported William Z, Foster and James Ford for the 
presidency in the fall of 1932. 

There had been for some years in the United States a 
number of left-wing theaters, which called themselves by 
different names and were all amateur theaters. And for the 
most part, they talked rather than did: they discussed 
theory; they tried to train themselves in acting; they tried 
to write. And where they produced material it tended to be 
what was called agitprop theater. Agitprop comes from 
the larger words agitational propaganda , and it was a form 
of theater that frequently could be very effective and very 
interesting and was modeled after left-wing educational 
theater, really, that had been produced in Germany by 
workers' groups before Hitler's coming to power. 

236 



TAPE NUMBER: VI, SIDE TWO 
AUGUST 26, 1976 

MALTZ : The word propaganda has a different meaning in Europe 
than it has in the United States. Here we tend to regard 
propaganda as something that is self-serving to the organi- 
zation or person who puts it out, and likely not to be true. 
But in Europe it has more the sense of educational. If, 
for instance, one were to take a lyric by Bertolt Brecht, 
with music by Hanns Eisler or Kurt Weill, and sing that 
from the back of a truck in a street meeting, that would be 
called an agitprop presentation. But in fact it was, let's 
say, just an attempt to educate on a social or political 
theme, and these amateur groups sometimes did some interesting 
work in that way. 

But the Theatre Union board was composed of individuals 
who had a different goal, and that was to create a profes- 
sional theater that would aspire to the theatrical excellence 
of the Group Theatre, because we were admirers of the Group 
Theatre's high standards of acting, directing, and general 
presentation; but we wanted to be more consistent in dealing 
with plays of social importance. When I refer to plays of 
social importance, the words should not be construed 
narrowly. We were living at a time when the failures of 
society, not only in the United States but in all the countries 



237 



of the world, which were also suffering from a depression, 
impinged with terrible force daily on the lives of millions 
upon millions of human beings. Social problems were every- 
where about us, were in every newspaper we opened every 
morning, and we felt that there should be theater that 
dealt with these problems. It was not, let's say, that if 
I went to Broadway myself and saw a delicious farce comedy 
like Three Men on a Horse that I wouldn't laugh and wouldn't 
say, "Well, of course there is a place in the theater for 
such plays." But rather we felt that there was a lack in 
the theater of plays that also dealt with the lives of 
working people who made up the largest percentage of the 
American population; and yet their lives, their conflicts, 
problems, hopes, ambitions, failures were scarcely ever 
mirrored in the American theater. And just as a novelist 
like Zola can be considered a social novelist, so, let's 
say for myself, I hoped to be a social playwright at that 
time, and we on the Executive Board hoped to make the 
Theatre Union a theater of social importance. I might say 
just in passing that there was really a long history to 
such theater: not a few of the plays of Ibsen have dealt 
with social problems — a play like An Enemy of the People , ~ 
a play like A Doll's House ; not a few of Galsworthv's 
plays — Justice , The Silver Box , The Skin Game , Foundations — 
dealt with social problems, and I could go on and on in 



238 



mentioning this. Nevertheless, for this time in American 
theater, the program, or the goal of the Theatre Union, was 
something fresh and of course came out of the convulsive 
events of the Depression. 

We published a statement — or probably more than one 
statement, but the only one I have on hand — expressing our 
point of view is the following: "We produce plays that deal 
boldly with the deep-growing social conflicts, the economic, 
emotional, and cultural problems that confront the majority 
of the people. Our plays speak directly to this majority 
whose lives usually are caricatured or ignored on stage. 
We do not expect that these plays will fall into accepted 
social patterns. This is a new kind of professional theater 
based on the interests and hopes of the great mass of working 
people." As I go through my discussion of the Theatre Union 
plays, I will comment on the extent to which I think we 
realized this objective and the extent to which we didn't. 

There were several specific practical policies that 
the Theatre Union developed that need to be mentioned. First 
of all, and something that we who were members of it can 
remain proud of, we ended all seating discrimination in 
the American theater. Until the first Theatre Union play 
came on, even in New York City all black people who wanted 
to go to a play had to sit in the balcony; they were not 
permitted in the orchestras of any theater in New York City. 



239 



We ended that with our first play, and although it was not 
immediately copied by the other theaters, I believe it may 
have been copied fairly soon by the Group Theatre. And 
during World War II, it was copied by the other theaters 
because it was part of the national push against fascism, 
and the stress on American democracy to do so. But this is 
something that we started. 

Secondly, the members of the Executive Board worked 
without any remuneration whatsoever. And the actors, the 
director of a given play, and the staff whom we needed to 
run the organization day by day (a small staff but it was 
a staff) worked for forty dollars a week. The forty dollar 
figure was chosen because that was the minimum that the 
actors' union, [Actorsl Equity, would permit professional 
actors to work for. And so, taking the forty dollar minimum, 
which was all we could afford for our actors, we gave the 
same salary to our executive director and to the publicity 
person and so on. (And, I might say, to the janitor, the 
one who cleaned out the Theatre Union and who was kind of 
a watchman — he received the same salary.) When we had some 
stars, as we did for certain plays--for instance, in our 
first play a very well-known actor, Robert Keith; in our 
second play, Tom Powers, who was associated with the Theatre 
Guild and many of its important productions-- [they ] received 
the same salary, forty dollars. 



240 



We established a ticket price of a maximum of $1.50 
in the first half of the orchestra at a time when in Broadway 
the equivalent seats were $3.30; the balance of the orches- 
tra was $1.00. The first balcony was seventy-five cents and 
fifty cents, and the second balcony, because it was a very 
large theater seating 1,100 or 1,200 people, was thirty-five 
cents. And we also had a policy, once we began to perform, 
of appealing to the audience between acts for any contribu- 
tions they wanted to give on their way out so that free 
tickets could be given to members of unemployed organiza- 
tions. And whether or not we got the contributions, whenever 
there was room in our house we always distributed free 
tickets to members of Unemployed Councils-- or unemployed 
organizations , because we didn't select the Communist- led 
as against the Socialists; we gave equally. 

We also developed something very interesting. There 
had been in the New York theater before (and I don't know 
how many years before) the practice of selling benefits 
from time to time to different organizations that might 
want to take over a house or a portion of a house. But we 
developed this into a very fine art. Because there were in 
the whole perspective of the Left, and this includes all 
stripes of people, many organizations--sometimes rather 
small ones, sometimes large, and constantly proliferating 
in that period in the thirties--organizations that needed 



241 



money. Consequently, if we had a given chapter of the Social- 
ist LID or of a Comip.unist group or of a civil liberties 
group that wanted to take anywhere from 50 to 100 to 500 
tickets to 800 tickets, we would give them those tickets 
at half-price. Selling at half-price, we were able to keep 
going. But they could then sell their tickets at the regular 
rate to their members; they would make the difference of the 
half-price as profit for their little organization or their 
large organization. We sold them to trade union groups 
trying to raise money. And in this way, by the time we had 
finished the first two plays we had about ten weeks of 
benefits sold in advance of the raising of a curtain. Now, 
that does not mean that we had every seat for the ten weeks 
sold out (for the performances of ten weeks) , but what we 
did have was a sufficient nxomber of benefits sold that we 
could sell them up through a ten-week period and know that 
we would get enough individual tickets sold to fill the house 
sufficiently to keep our play going. Now, when we did that 
we were also able, by the time of the third play and even 
before, by the second, to start to use that advance benefit 
money to raise the curtain on our plays. Because raising 
money to start each new play was a big job in itself. 
Charles Walker did that primarily for the first play, and 
I think it cost us on the average about $7,000 at that time 
to raise the curtain on a play. Probably on Broadway it 



242 



cost $20,000, $25,000, $30,000. And in this manner we were 
able to survive. 

Now, we also had to get a theater, and we found out in 
exploring Broadway theaters that they were too costly for 
us; we would not have been able to function in them. But 
a theater opened up that was very desirable, and that was 
the well-known Civic Repertory Theatre on Fourteenth Street 
and Sixth Avenue in New York, lower Manhattan. 

This had been, for a good number of years, certainly 
at least from about 1929 or earlier (I began to attend it, 
I guess, starting in '29) --it had been the theater run by 
Eva Le Galliene, who was an excellent actress, a fine 
director, a woman of great love of theater and taste in 
theater, and who had a repertory theater that did important 
plays . . . [sound interference — tape recorder turned off] 
. . . from the literature of all countries. She had been 
unable to continue her theater for financial reasons, and 
we found that the rental of the house was possible for us 
to manage. The fact that we moved into the Civic Repertory 
after she had been there gave us the advantage of being able 
to invite critics to it, and they came from all the news- 
papers for our first production. It was also a house to 
which people with a love of theater had been accustomed to 
go, even though at that time there was no off-Broadway 
theater in the way that has developed in recent years. 



243 



Peace on Earth , our first play, required a very large 
cast. We reduced the number of actors we had to hire by 
having some of the actors play two and three roles, and this 
could be done because some of them were brief speaking parts 
that didn't occur again. And it was a play with not a few 
sets. We had as director a man who had been, I think, an 
assistant to George Kaufman--Robert Sinclair--who had not 
directed a play as such before, who proved to be a good 
director and went on from Peace on Earth to direct a whole 
series of important plays in the theater. We had some 
splendid actors, among them Robert Keith, whom I have men- 
tioned, who had a leading role in Lillian Hellman's 
The Little Foxes ; Howard Da Silva, who is still acting 
today; Martin Wolf son, who was to remain a prominent character 
actor for the years ahead; Millicent Green, who had had the 
lead in Elmer Rice's Street Scene a few years before; 
George Tobias, and others. So that even though we were not 
opening with much money, and even though we were not paying 
more than the Equity minimum, we had quite an excellent 
cast. We couldn't afford to go out of town the way most 
producers tried to handle their plays at that time — going 
out before audiences in New Haven and Philadelphia and 
Baltimore and so on. So what we did was to inaugurate what 
became a practice for us: preliminary previews at which 
certain people were invited, and most were asked to pay but 



244 



got still cheaper seats. And so we got audience reaction 
and sometimes did some rewriting, changing, and so on. 

We opened Peace on Earth on Thanksgiving eve, 1933, 
and the reviews for the most part were disastrous. I'll 
now read a few of them. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times 
said: "As propaganda against war. Peace on Earth is 
pathetically inadequate. Being conceived in a mood of 
adolescent hysteria, it is as maudlin as the mob it de- 
nounces." At the end he said: "And this column must conclude 
by simply confessing that, although it holds no brief for 
the ideas or the workmanship of Peace on Earth , it was made 
furiously to think. Perhaps that is all the authors intended." 
I know that at that time--and still today, I would 

say — that a play that made Brooks Atkinson "furiously to 
think" was not quite as adolescent and pathetically inade- 
quate as he asserted it was. On the other hand, I do not 
have the impression that it was a very good play. I think 
it was strident. I think it was overwrought. And I think 
there is a good reason why it has not entered into the 
repertoire of theater since. Percy Hammond of the 
Herald-Tribune said: "The drama was a militant thing of 
thirty scenes or more, frothing at the mouth in anger with 
the profiteering warlords and contempt for their supine 
subjects. It was often theatrically effective also in a 
front-page way since it contained murders, riots, strikes. 



245 



parades, hot oratory, and battle cries. Presented so swiftly 
that it sometimes lost its breath, it moved along at a 
jazz tempo to which scores of excellent cooperative actors 
kept step." On the other hand, Joseph Freeman, writing in 
the Daily Worker , said: "The Theatre Union's production 
opened Wednesday night before a mixed audience of evening 
clothes and flannel shirts, who were swept by the play's power 
into prolonged applause. The house was filled not merely 
with the intellectual response evoked by good propaganda, 
but with the emotional tension aroused by good art." Well, 
he was reflecting the much warmer response of those who 
welcomed the politics of the play, really, and who therefore 
were less inclined to be critical of other aspects--although 
he was critical of certain aspects of it. 

The next morning after the opening, the Executive Board 
of the Theatre Union met. Personally, I can't remember a 
Thanksgiving morning in which I felt more blue. Since 
George Sklar and I only knew the experience of the pro- 
fessional theater, we would have expected that the play 
would have closed after a few more nights. But then we 
found a quite different attitude on the part of the members 
of the Executive Board, whose personal experience was an 
organizational one and who had worked, or were working, in 
mass organizations. They said, "Oh no, we're not going to 
close this play, we're going to fight for it." And they 



246 



proceeded to suggest all of those measures which they had 
used, let's say, in situations when they were fighting to 
support strikers, or to advance a civil liberties cause, or 
to arouse people against American intervention in 
Nicaragua. As a result, plans were immediately drawn up, 
of which I can remember some. 

One was to raise emergency money to keep the play 
going long enough so that word of mouth about it could 
spread. Now, how was word of mouth to spread since the 
reviews were so bad? Well, first of all, we would invite 
to the theater, free of charge, the heads of as many trade 
unions and mass organizations as were willing to come. We 
would call them and get right after them, and lists were 
drawn up of those contacts that different members had. If 
they liked the play, we would then urge them to urge their 
constituencies to come. And we would also ask for the right 
to have members of the Theatre Union board address their 
executive board meetings or their union meetings or organi- 
zational meetings. A leaflet was composed that in effect 
said: this is a play that you will like; the prices are 
only such and such. And plans were laid to immediately 
get ahold of unemployed workers who, for a small fee or for 
support of the Theatre Union (I don't remember what) , would 
stuff these leaflets into mailboxes in the whole area around 
our theater — just put them there as flyers. And I imagine 



247 



that the benefit system probably began a great push at that 
moment to get benefits. 

What happened on the play as a result of this and 
other such moves — and it resulted, by the way, that for the 
first time of our lives George Sklar and I, and others like 
us in the theater, began to make public speeches. I can 
remember with what trepidation and with what headaches I 
faced my first public speeches. It might have been before 
audiences of maybe only 50 or 100 or 200 people, but it was 
not easy going to do that; and yet we went and did it in 
order to fight for our play and for our theater. 

And a fascinating thing happened. The play did not 
break even in its running. I think it cost probably about 
$3,000 a week or $2,500 a week of intake to pay the salaries 
of the actors and our small staff. We, the authors, didn't 
take royalties. And for the first weeks it lost money. In 
order to pay the salaries and to pay the rent and the electric 
light bill and the phone bill, money had to be raised to keep 
the theater going. And it was also quite cold in the suc- 
ceeding months, which would keep people away from the theater. 
But nevertheless, as the weeks went on the size of the audi- 
ences began to grow, and it became apparent that here was 
a play that had a good word of mouth when certain people came 
to it. And sometimes these people, as we discovered, had 
never seen a play before. They came out and said, "That was 



248 



a great picture show I saw. " (I overheard someone saying 
that.) And the naivete of some of them was such that once 
we found in an alley outside of the stage-door entrance a 
group of men, of seamen I think, who were waiting for one 
of the villains to come out, and they wanted to beat him up. 
What we called the carriage trade — that is to say, people 
who came in taxis or in limousines such as you see in the 
Broadway theater — did not appear until the play had been 
running for about ten weeks; but then the carriage trade 
began to appear. And this play had a twenty-six-week run, 
which is half a year's run, and then was taken over by some 
outfit, a commercial outfit, and ran four or six weeks more 
on Broadway. Now, that's a hit run for a play--or it was 
at that time. And it never would have occurred without this 
group of people on the Executive Board whom I have described. 
And interestingly enough, some of the reviewers came down 
to take another look at it and wrote some more favorable 
pieces about it. In some of the papers where they had derided 
it as hysterical, they now described it as "excitingly 
militant." So it was certainly not the best play in the 
world, but it was not without its merit, and it did have a 
theatrical appeal for people. 

During the period of its run and subsequently, I and 
others had constant work to do for the Theatre Union. It 
was very time-consuming but very exciting for us. There 



249 



were the weekly board meetings, and sometimes there had to 
be two and three a week if there was a crisis of some sort. 
These [were] always in the evening or on a weekend since 
various of our members had jobs. There were the making of 
speeches, which I mentioned, but there was constant reading 
of new plays because we were seeking new material. And as 
the occasion would warrant, one or another of us, or several 
of us at once, would be working with different playwrights 
and trying to have a play that had partial quality, but was 
not right, rewritten — and we would do that. And then myself, 
I was going on to try and write another play and so also 
were the others . 

During the run of the play Peace on Earth , George Sklar 
got together with Paul Peters to write a play called Stevedore , 
This had been based upon an earlier play by Peters 
[ Wharf Nigger ] which was more limited than the one that 
they finally put out together. Theirs was a very successful 
collaboration, and their play proved to be the most success- 
ful, both aesthetically and in terras of audience, and finan- 
cially, of any that we were to put on in the next period, 
[tape recorder turned off] The Theatre Union board decided 
that Stevedore would be its next production and that it would 
be in the fall of 1934, since Peace on Earth continued up 
through to the summer of 1934, as I recall. 
GARDNER: Were you working on other projects at this time? 



250 



MALTZ: I had started work on another play, yes. By myself. 
GARDNER: Which was. . . ? 

MALTZ: A play that — I don't remember its title; it never 
matured and never came to anything. I don't think I began 
it until well into the spring because of all the other 
involvements. However, I would like to pause at this moment 
to discuss one of the books I mentioned before, Drama VJas a 
Weapon , by Hiraelstein, because it explains in part why I am 
anxious to do this oral history. Himelstein, at least when 
the book was published, was teaching at Rutgers University; 
the book was published by the Rutgers University Press. 
It's undoubtedly in all libraries around the United States, 
and anybody who reads it will get an absolutely wrong thesis 
about the Theatre Union and the Left theater, and indeed, 
the theater in general in the thirties. 

In effect, Hiraelstein' s thesis is that in the thirties 
there was a decision on the part of the Communist party to 
take over the theater for its purposes. That is to say, 
some Communist leaders sitting together at a table said in 
effect, "Let's take over the American theater." Hence they 
established the Theatre Union and the Group Theatre and the 
Theatre of Action and other of the Left theaters, and they 
wormed their way into the Theatre Guild. And although they 
didn't succeed in taking over the Theatre Guild, they did 
succeed in getting it to produce John Wexley's 



251 



They Shall Not Die about the Scottsboro boys, and Parade 
by George Sklar and Paul Peters. Now, this absolutely 
vulgar and stupid thesis is the kind of thing that I want 
to correct insofar as my experience permits me to do so in 
this oral history. 

It never occurred to Himelstein that since the United 
States and the world were convulsed by events like the 
Depression and the coming of fascism to Germany, that this 
would be reflected in what people in all forms of art did. 
People react to events like this, therefore it was very 
natural that certain painters would paint certain things that 
reflected the world that was around them. And you began to 
get in painting and photography portraits of unemployed 
people; it was a natural piece of subject material. You 
began to see it reflected in short stories, in magazine 
articles, and in novels. And it wasn't that the Communist 
leadership sat down and said, "Aha! We will take over the 
American novel 1 We will take over the American magazine!" 
They could have said that until they were blue in the face, 
and it would not have made any difference unless writers 
themselves had reacted with their hearts and their guts to 
what they were seeing. 

So in the course of events, the people who ran the 
Theatre Guild decided that they would do something like the 
Wexley play because they found it stirring and meaningful. 



252 



And after they had produced Parade — which was not too 
successful itself, and which cost them, as I just read, 
$100,000 and was a failure with their audiences — they didn't 
do any more of that kind of thing. But it was they, never- 
theless, who sponsored a new theater called the Group Theatre 
and helped it with money at first. And the Group Theatre 
was the response of a certain number of people who had ideas 
about society; they weren't in general as Left as the people 
in the Theatre Union but they were reacting. And it is, to me, 
so unfortunate and so outrageous that a man like Himelstein 
would have his book on library shelves, and people will read 
it and say, "Aha! This is what happened in the thirties!" 
But my outrage doesn't last long, because one has to be philo- 
sophic about it. This is the way all history has probably 
been written and rewritten, and there is no way to prevent 
that. The only thing that one can do, if one has participated 
in certain events, and if one has the opportunity as I have 
now, is to try and set whatever record you do know straight. 
And that's where we are. So I think at this point we probably 
should stop because I enter into a whole other thing after 
this . 
GARDNER: Okay, fine. 



253 



TAPE NUMBER: VII, SIDE ONE 
SEPTEMBER 3, 1976 

GARDNER: Now, you wanted to begin with a flashback. 
MALTZ : Yes, I wanted to begin with just a little note on 
Theatre Union. Margaret I.arkin, who was the executive 
secretary of the Theatre Union but also its publicity 
person, began something new in the theater. She put notes 
into the back of our programs on the actors and what plays 
they had been in beforehand. This was the first time that 
it was ever done in the American theater, and it became 
something that all theaters have subsequently done. 

In the spring of 1934, April I believe, the Theatre 
Union opened its greatest success. Stevedore , written by 
Paul Peters and George Sklar. The cast of characters was 
largely of black people in New Orleans, and we had an 
absolutely marvelous cast of actors. The reviews on the 
whole were excellent, and the play had packed houses at 
all performances. It ran for 111 performances, until we 
had to close in August because of the summer heat (knowing 
that we were going to reopen it in the fall, which we did, 
and which I will mention when I come to the fall) , It is 
a play that I feel should be in more than one anthology of 
American plays, and I am convinced that only political 
prejudice kept it out — or, let's say, timidity on the part 
of editors and publishers. I have reread the play in 



254 



recent years, and I think it could be put on as written 
today and would again be immensely popular with audiences 
because of its enduring values. 
GARDNER: What is it about? 

MALTZ: Stevedore is a most eloquent dramatization of race 
discrimination in the South. The main characters are 
stevedores working on the wharves, and their wives and 
sweethearts and members of their families. It involves the 
possibility of a lynching because of an alleged relationship 
between — or of an alleged attack by a black man on a white 
woman, which the audience knows is complete nonsense. It 
had a marvelous humanity involved with its drama. It was 
the only Theatre Union play that made some real money, so 
that when in the fall of 1934 we produced our third play, 
there was no need for us to go out and raise money in order 
to finance the opening of that play. But I'll come to that 
presently. 

In the summer of 1934, beginning I think probably in 
early May, I left New York in a secondhand Ford Model-A, 
two-seater car, with a little rumble seat, that proved to 
be a very durable automobile indeed. In the four months I 
traveled some 10,000 miles and covered a good deal of 
ground. My purpose in going out was to get material for a 
play on a rather famous, although now perhaps a bit obscure, 
figure in American labor history, a woman [Mary Jones] called 



255 



Mother Jones. She had been a very courageous organizer 
of coal miners, jailed not a few times, and I had read 
a biography of her and felt that I wanted to do a play 
about her. But in order to write it, I needed to learn 
about coal mining and coal miners and so on. I went out 
armed with two letters. One was from, the New York Post 
indicating, not that I was a regular correspondent for it, 
but that I was a freelancer, and that they were interested 
in articles I would write. I got this because of a couple 
of friends on the newspaper--! . F. Stone and Sam Grafton. 
I had a similar letter from the New Masses . And so I was 
able to move either in ordinary circles or in left-wing 
circles with those letters. 

The first place I went was not to the coal fields but 
to Toledo, Ohio, because at the time there was a strike 
going on in that city, and martial law had been declared 
as a result of it. This was a strike at a large plant that 
made parts for General Motors cars (I believe spark plugs 
and perhaps batteries, also) . And in som.e conflict that I 
no longer remember, four of the workers on the picket line 
had been shot dead by the national guard. There was an 
inquest going on when I arrived in Toledo, and I was able 
to attend it because of my New York Post letter. I heard 
that there had also been a court-martial of a number of the 
guardsmen who had not fired upon the strikers when they had 



256 



been ordered to do so. And from sitting in on this inquest 
for a number of days, and from other things I learned while 
in the city, I subsequently wrote a short play, Private Hicks , 
about a guardsman who refuses to fire and is court-martialed. 
GARDNER: Did you also do any articles on the . . . ? 
MALTZ: No, I didn't do any articles on the Toledo situation. 
I did a few articles that summer on things I observed and 
learned. I'll mention just in passing that I was very angry 
at Heywood Broun, the noted columnist, who attended the 
inquest one day when I was there, because he couldn't keep 
his eyes open. His eyes were bloodshot, and since he was 
noted for his drinking and late-night card games, I assumed 
that he had come from one of them to the inquest. And I 
thought it was insulting for him to be three-quarters asleep. 
This was the same Heywood Broun who a year or two later took 
a remarkable role in the successful organization of the 
Newspaper Guild. He was simply marvelous in the way he 
behaved over a long, long period. 

I think I might mention just for the record that the 
general labor picture in the United States at that time was 
that most working people were unorganized; they were not in 
unions. VJages were very low. They were thirty cents an 
hour or less in many industries. VJorking conditions were 
very bad. For instance, such simple basic human raatters 
as the right to go to the toilet didn't exist, and people 



257 



could be firer". if they broke off work before the noon whistle 
to go to a toilet. The employers didn't care because there 
were five people outside for every job inside. Safety 
regulations were completely lax and working people were 
injured and killed, and there was tremendous speedup on 
various of the automatic lines. 

There were a great many company unions, which meant 
unions under the control of the company, therefore not respon- 
sive to the real needs of the working people. Wherever 
possible, the companies, if they owned the entire town in 
which an industry was situated, would establish [their] own 
company stores where prices were always higher than they were 
in stores in a neighboring town, but where the people who 
worked in the industry could buy what was in the stores with 
company money, called scrip. There was the very widespread 
use of instruments of intimidation and terror against the 
efforts of workers to get their own unions: for instance, 
newspapers who printed only the side of the employers, 
informers who would report anybody trying to organize, thugs 
who would beat up organizers or union members, and judges 
who gave injunctions preventing picketing within blocks and 
blocks of a plant or who sentenced people to jail, and such 
institutions as the state police of Pennsylvania, who were 
called the coal and iron police because they acted on behalf 
of the owners of coal mines and steel mills against unions. 



258 



There then was a very profound problem within the 
labor movement itself, such as it existed. That is to say, 
the AF of L existed, but it v;as organized on craft lines, 
not on lines of industrial unions, and it fought against the 
organization of industrial unions because it didn't want 
any change in the status quo. Or going into the Deep South 
there were many states where the farm workers owned no land; 
instead, they were sharecroppers and virtual peons, or half- 
slaves, on the large plantations of owners who would give 
them enough each year to let them stay a]ive in terms of food 
and a little money, but would see to it that at the end of 
each year the debt that they owed the owner increased. Now, 
if a sharecropper then would try to move away, the owner 
would say, "You can't move away until you have paid your debt." 
And if he still tried to move away, the sheriff was right 
there at the owner's request and would put the man in jail, 
where he could be sent to a chain gang. So you had the 
perpetuation of a form of wage slavery, certainly, if not 
the chattel slavery that existed before the Civil War. At 
the same time, side by side with all that I have just men- 
tioned, you had a wave of new policies com.ing out of the 
Roosevelt administration that were prolabor, and you had 
with it a drive for unionization and industrial unionization. 

From Toledo I went directly to Pittsburgh, and I had 
a name or two of people on the Left in Pittsburgh (I no 



259 



longer remember who gave them to me; perhaps it was from 
the New Masses or maybe somebody on the Daily Worker ) . 
And there I saw the example of the tremendous effort on the 
part of some people on the Left, including some Communists 
I met, to organize steel along industrial lines. And they 
were as underground in their effort as members of the French 
Resistance were in fighting the Germans because they had to 
be afraid, both of everything that could be brought to bear 
on them (which I mentioned) from the employers in steel, 
and also from the leadership of the AF of L, which didn't 
want any change in the crafts that they had organized. 

At that time I visited a girl I met who lived in 
Monessen, one of the industrial towns adjacent to Pittsburgh — 
of which there were many all along the banks of the 
Monongahela River, a river that ran rusty from the issue of 
the various plants. And I used that situation to write a 
short story. The girl had a brother who was working in a 
nail mill and who, in his twenties, was going deaf from 
the extreme noise in the nail mill. And I used the home 
in which they lived, which went up about, it seems to me 
without looking at my story again, over a hundred steps 
from a street in order to reach their house. This story 
was called "Good-by" and was in my first volume of stories. 

I went to various meetings of the Unemployed Council 
in Pittsburgh, and it was an introduction to me to life in 



260 



an industrial town. I then went down to a coal town where 
there was a very large mine, extremely large, and it was 
only about, I think, twelve or fifteen miles outside of 
Pittsburgh. It was caD.led Library. There I had the name 
of a man who was a man from Appalachia, I would have thought, 
from a long line of mountain people. His name was Fred Siders 
and he looked very much the way Eisenhower looked when he 
came along. He was an organizer of the unemployed and of 
the national miners' union, v/hich was the left-wing union 
headed by Communists in the mine organization--in mining. 
Now, that union exemplified an American Communist policy, 
which was similar to the policy of Comm^unist parties of 
Europe, of establishing Left-, Communist-led unions. And 
within the course of the next year, that and all the others 
were dissolved, and the workers in them merged with the 
larger unions, which were able to be established under the 
more benign Roosevelt policy. But this contact with him 
led to the core of my play Black Pit . 

He had a brother, whom I met, who worked at a coal mine 
some miles away, and the brother had been involved in a 
strike some years before and had been accused (I don't know 
whether justly or unjustly) of having dynamited the tipple 
of the coal mine. The tipple is the structure of a mine, 
where the coal is deep in the earth and has to be reached 
by elevators, and the tipple houses the mechanism by which 



261 



these elevators function. He had gone to prison for two or 
three years and, now that he was out, would have nothing to 
do whatsoever with any trade union. I took his situation 
and his attitude and from that built the central character 
of what was to become my play Black Pit . 

I stayed in Library for a while and stayed with a miner 
in his one-room home, and then after a couple of weeks I 
went further south to a mining area called Brownsville, where 
I stayed a week in a coal camp, waiting to get a job. I'm 
sure it was very lucky for me that I couldn't get a job 
because, although I was young and in good physical condition, 
I'm sure I could not have handled that mine work. But I was 
allowed to stay there because I had to pay board and lodging. 
I stayed in the barrack for single men, and by staying there 
and talking with the men and eating what they got, I learned 
a great deal about what it was like to be a miner. Just 
hold up for a moment. [tape recorder turned off] 
I summed up the portrait of so many of these small coal 
towns, which were company towns, in the preface that I wrote 
to the published edition of the play Black Pit . 
GARDNER: At this point were you now sending articles back 
to the. . . ? 

MALTZ : No, I had not yet sent any articles back to anyone. 
I don't remember whether I sent any things to the New York Post , 
I may or may not have. ... I don't think I did at this 



262 



time. I would mention that somewhere along in here I also 
went to a town in Pennsylvania, or in Ohio, because I was 
given a contact of a leader of a steel union, a left-wing 
union, a man called Joe Dallet. And I went to a union 
meeting, a strike meeting--or a meeting of strikers--with 
his wife, Kitty. Dallet subsequently died as a member of 
the Lincoln Brigades in Spain and his wife, Kitty, I dis- 
covered years later, had married the physicist J. Robert 
Oppenheimer . 

While I was in Brownsville or Library, I forget which, 
I got a letter from the New Masses asking me if I would do 
an article on the situation among the farmers in South Dakota, 
where there had been some auctions of farms. The local 
farmers, under the organization of the National Farmers 
Union, I believe, had gathered, and prevented an actual 
auction by buying the farm and its implements for one penny, 
and then giving them back to the farmer. This had gotten 
a great deal of front-page newspaper publicity. 

And so I drove from Pennsylvania to Sisseton, South 
Dakota. Always, in traveling that summer, there were people 
on the road wanting hitches as they traveled from town to 
town, seeking work. And picking them up and talking was 
always an interesting and. sometimes a literarily useful 
practice. There had been, in a considerable number of states 
that summer, a terrible drought which continued into the 



263 



next year. This was the era that we know of where the Okies 
and the Arkies went west to California because the land was 
turned into a dust bowl. And in South Dakota, while there 
wasn't as yet that dreadful a situation, it was very bad. 
So much acreage was just dry, nothing growing. There were 
cows who grazed right along the roadside because sometimes 
there was a little bit of grass along the road. There were 
numberless jackrabbits that would run out in front of the 
auto (all of the roads, most of the roads, became dirt roads; 
they were not paved) and would just run ahead of my car 
sometimes for forty or fifty yards before they ran off to 
the side. There were in that area fewer people hitchhiking. 
I think that the dreadful situation of people at that time 
was summed up for me when I pulled into a gas station and 
there was a car that had just arrived before me with some 
farmers in it; the gas station owner walked over to ask them 
what they wanted (and I think to say hello) , and he put his 
hand on the driver's car door, and the door came right off 
in his hand. 

When I came to Sisseton, I found a town utterly lacking 
in the kind of charm that a New England village would have 
[which,] even if it was in a state of drought, by its layout 
and its architecture, would have a lovely quality. This was 
just a wide dirt street with some buildings, largely un- 
painted, on both sides of the street, running for a certain 



264 



distance and then becoming country. The architecture was 
dull and there was just nothing attractive about it. No 
trees, for instance, had been planted because there was no 
way of really giving them steady water, although . . .no, 
this was not irrigating country so they must have had enough 
rain for crops. They would have had enough for trees, but 
nobody had planted trees. I remember I had a room in a hotel 
that must have been built around 1890, and it was hot and 
stuffy and so on. I had letters too; I had been given the 
address of two men, father and son, who were among the leaders 
of the National Farm.ers Union in that area. Their name was 
Walstad, and the father was Knut and the son was Julius. 
The father had homesteaded there about 18 70, coming, I 
believe, from Denmark. Anc" the son, who was then, I guess, 
around forty, had been a World War I hero, a decorated hero, 
who had a slight limp because some toes had been shot away. 
But this is important for what I will tell later: the town 
had wanted to name the legion hall after him when he had 
returned, but he hadn't wanted that. And now because of 
general conditions they were very active organizers in this 
left-wing union. 

GARDNER: Let me ask a question here. At a sim.ilar time 
in California there would have been incredible pressure from 
townspeople and so on and farmers' unions against, first of 
all, the unions that were forming and, second of all, people 



265 



such as yourself coming in and looking around and partici- 
pating. Did you run into any of that, vigilante committees 
and so on? 

KALTZ : Yes, and that's what I'm going to talk about very 
shortly . 

GARDNER: I anticipated you. 

MALTZ : I was not aware when I first met them that there was 
building up in that area a great deal of anger toward the 
National Farmers Union en the part of certain elements in the 
society--for instance, businessmen, bankers, of course, who 
were mortgage-company owners, grain elevator owners, and a 
certain number of people who were just right-wing, or extreme 
right-wing in attitude. But that came to play a role which 
I will talk about. 

While I was getting material from these two men in order 
to write an article about what they had been doing and what 
had happened there, I was asked by them if I would gpeak to 
some farmers at a regular meeting that they were having in a 
schoolhouse. And I said I would. They wanted me to talk 
about what conditions were like in cities, in New York and 
so on. The schoolhouse stood on untilled prairie land and 
about three miles from the main road, and to get there, there 
was just a set of ruts over the prairie. When we were coming 
back, a young man who was with us said he knew the road much 
better than I, and would I let him take the wheel because I 



266 



was going too slowly. So I gave him the wheel, and he got 
us out faster onto the main road. Now, the main road, which 
was of dirt, had also just one set of ruts, and cars used 
it going in each direction. But when two cars saw each 
other approaching, they were each supposed to get out of 
the ruts and move to the side of the road, and there was 
plenty of room. But in some way, while we were (the three 
of us--that is, there was this young man and Knut Walstad 
and myself) singing some songs, and I was looking out ovp»r 
the coxintryside, I half-turned and suddenly saw a blaze of 
light, and we had a head-on collision with another car. 
Fortunately, my little Ford, which was a touring car, I 
had put up the top because of rain, so it had this light 
frame which was crushed in but which saved us from what would 
have happened if it hadn't been on, because we turned over 
twice. And since I was sitting in the middle, I only 
received a sprained right wrist; and the other men, because 
we were packed in closely, had all of their ribs broken on 
the side where they were sitting, but nothing else for them. 
And this caused me to remain in the town for three weeks, 
because the local garage had to senc^ to Chicago to get parts 
for my car. 

As a result of this, I was there in time for a Fourth 
of July celebration, when there was a sideshow in town which 
brought people in, and some 2,000 farmers from many areas 



267 



came in, I was asked to be one of the speakers and talk 
more or less about the same thing I had in the schoolhouse, 
and I agreed. I was getting ready to leave at that time, 
and a few nights later--a few days later--! did leave, and 
so I missed a dance which the national union had in some 
local, two-story building . . . and missed something else. 

In the middle of the dance, armed vigilantes led by 
the local sheriff raided the dancehall and beat up everyone 
they found there, excepting those who jumped out of second- 
story windows and got away. They also stopped cars on the 
road of people coming to the dance and beat them up. Now, 
I learned about this only later in a letter I received from 
Knut Walstad, who had not been one of those who was beaten 
up. But among those who were terribly beaten up was Julius 
Walstad and then, after the beating, something happened that 
was incredibly bizarre. At least a dozen of the National 
Farmers Union men, or more I believe (I'd have to check this 
in my short story; this was a short story called "Letter from 
the Country," which I based upon the letter I had received), 
were taken down to the union hall — no, to the legion hall, 
to the same American Legion hall that Julius's name might 
have been on. And there they were kept for about an hour 
while men and women, drunk, came over to them, abused them, 
put out cigarettes on their flesh, finally made them run a 
gauntlet, and danced around while they were lying on the 



268 



floor with their various injuries, and finally had them run 
a gauntlet where they were beaten again after they were led 
out. Now, I think if I had been caught at that dance as a 
foreigner from South Dakota — that is, someone from New York-- 
I probably would have been left dead in a ditch. And who was 
going to complain and who was going to do what? But it was 
my good fortune that I left. However, the savagery, the 
ungovernable hatred that was displayed there was very impor- 
tant for me emotionally because it was a direct counterpart 
to the Nazi phenomenon in Germany. And it was one of the 
things, if nothing else, that made me realize that it can 
happen, it could happen in the United States. 

Sometime that summer, and I no longer remember where 
it was or how it came about, I spoke on a platform somewhere 
I think in a ... I don't know where . . . maybe it was 
the outskirts of a city or town, in a country area. I know 
it wasn't in a city environment . . . with a very celebrated 
young woman. Ruby Bates (whom I mentioned before in connec- 
tion with the Scottsboro case) . She was one of the two girls 
who first had charged that they had been raped by the 
Scottsboro boys and later, through apparently a crisis of 
conscience and a meeting with the clergyman [Harry Emerson] 
Fosdick in New York, she had the extraordinary courage of 
going into a southern courtroom and saying that she had lied, 
and changing her testimony. She was a slender girl, very 



269 



meek looking, with eyeglasses; if I had seen her, not knowing 
anything about her, I would have said she was a rather prissy 
schoolteacher. But her readiness to face a perjury charge 
and to face possible lynching exhibited a type of courage 
that I never would have judged from just looking at her. 
From Sisseton I drove straight down to the very tip 
of Louisiana, covering that immense section of the United 
States and going down through the Deep South, because I 
wanted to see what I could see in traveling. Now, I'll 
mention in passing that there is a story by, I think, Erskine 
Caldwell or Faulkner--! believe Caldwell — about one man or 
two men who stop for the night in a whorehouse and are not 
aware that they had done so. I pulled into a hotel in 
Kansas City; I would go to an area in an unknown city like 
that and just look for a hotel that said one dollar for 
rooms, since that was what I had been paying all along. I 
saw one such and stopped my car and went in and asked if 
there was a room. I remem.ber, and noted at the time, that 
there was a very attractive girl sitting next to the desk 
in the very small lobby who looked at me with eyes that were 
like stone. I think they were the hardest eyes I had ever 
seen in my life, although she herself, as I said, was very 
attractive. And I got the room and I paid in advance, which 
one had to do. I don't remember whether I put my luggage 
up, because I ran out to supper and I knew there was a m.ovie 



270 



I had seen coming to the hotel that I wanted to see. And 
when I came back to my room, there were a succession of 
knocks on m.y door, and one girl after another knocked at 
the door trying to find which one of them would interest 
me. I didn't realize until that had happened where I had 
landed . 

Out of my traveling through the South there came a 
novelette. The Way Things Are , which was in m.y first volume 
of short stories. [sound interference--tape recorder turned 
off] When I headed north from Gulfport (I went down as far 
as Gulfport just to see a friend from Yale) , I headed for a 
m.ining area in West Virginia that I knew about called Scotts 
Run, and on the way I picked up an unemployed miner. When 
we passed through a town called Gauley Bridge, he told me 
what had transpired rather recently in that town: that the 
federal governm.ent — that a company, not the federal govern- 
ment — a company had been building a . . . gosh, I think now 
it was a . . . building a tunnel through a mountain, and I 
no longer remember the industrial purpose for it, but the 
stone which the miners had to cut had a very heavy concen- 
tration of silicate in it, and the men were not furnished 
the protection of masks. As a result, a large number of them, 
and including a large number in this community of Gauley 
Bridge, had inhaled such a quantity of silicate that many 
had contracted the disease of silicosis, and many already 



271 



had died and others were waiting for death. This resulted 
in my short story "Man on a Road," but it also resulted in 
iry awareness that this was news that ought to be told, it 
ought to be written up. And even though I knew I could 
write it for the New York Post , I was then in such a hurry 
to get to work on the play I had been developing about a coal 
miner that I told it to my friends on the Post and then 
learned from them that there was nothing they could do to 
follow up on the story. I believe I told it to some other 
newspaper people, but finally I told it to a left-wing labor 
news service that I think was called the Federated Press. 
I may be wrong about that, but that's the best I can recall. 
And they did send a reporter down to Gauley Bridge and, as 
a result, in their weekly paper ran about six to ten issues — 
stories over six to ten issues--on what had transpired, and 
this resulted in a congressional investigation of what had 
occurred. In the morning that the debate on the investiga- 
tion opened in Congress, every congressman had on his desk 
a copy of the Federated Press articles and my short story. 
I believe it resulted--! no longer can remember--! believe 
it resulted in some legislation concerning safety regula- 
tions . 

GARDNER: Where was the story first published? 
MALTZ: The story was first published in the New Masses and, 
as I look back upon it, why I sent it there instead of 



272 



sending it out to the New Yorker or Harper ' s or any of those 
which I am sure would have published it (because of other 
things of mine they subsequently published), I don't know. 
Maybe I thought, because they had given me a letter or 
something, that I ought to repay them by offering them 
something. Oh, I did during the summer write the article 
about conditions in the South Dakota area that I had gone 
to write, the article I'd gone to write, and they did 
publish it. 



273 



TAPE NUMBER: VII, SIDE TV70 
SEPTEMBER 3, 1976 

GARDNER: Did you have anything to add about the publica- 
tion of the short story? 

MALTZ: Well, only that it is one of the short stories of 
mine that has been most widely reprinted. It went into 
The Best [American] Short Stories of the year of 19 36, and 
since I look at my records, it has been reprinted maybe 
about eighty times the v<?orld over. But I think maybe at a 
later point I'll sxom up what has happened to some of my things 

Back in New York I immediately plunged into writing 
the mine play that I came to call Black Pit , and immediately 
also into continuing work for the Theatre Union--the usual 
stuff of meeting with the Executive Board and making deci- 
sions, reading plays, seeing playwrights, speaking, and so 
on. I did interrupt my work to attend for one day a meeting 
of the longshoremen, their annual convention. I did this 
because I was very interested in the personality of the 
West Coast longshoremen's leader, Harry Bridges, about whom 
so much had been written in the previous year. He had 
brilliantly led a longshoremen's strike in San Francisco, 
which was one of the two great strikes in the spring and 
summer of 1934 which were successful; the other was on the 
part of the Teamsters in Minneapolis. And this was the 
wave of the future in American labor, because both of these 



274 



were industrial unions, and they were both led by militant 
rank-and-file union leaders instead of the entrenched 
bureaucracy of the 7VF of L, and both had involved tremendous 
struggles, and both had been successful. There had been 
killings by the police in both of them; nevertheless, both 
had been successful. Mow, the longshoremen's union in 
New York, or the longshoremen's union based in New York, was 
the International [Longshoremen's Association], and for the 
moment, the Bridges union, I believe, was still a part of 
it; that was why he was going to come to the convention. 
But the longshoremen's union in New York was noted for its 
corruption, for the fact that the working longshoremen had 
to pay bribes to the men who handed out jobs on the docks, 
that they didn't have the hiring hall which was fair and 
took men in rotation, which had been established by the 
Bridges union in the West Coast, and that they were bitterly 
opposed to Bridges. 

So, using my New York Post credential, I attended the 
convention. Now, I somehow learned, perhaps by meeting 
somebody outside (I no longer can recall) , that no one from 
the Daily Worker was allowed into the convention, so I was 
asked if I wouldn't telephone a report of what was going on 
in the convention to the Daily Worker , and I said I would. 
While I was waiting for a session of the convention to 
start, a man who was unmistakably a thug and who was one of 



275 



those passing on the credentials of the reporters, came 
over to me and asked me to help him spot any Reds who got 
in there if I could — and I said I'd be glad to. This was 
a character whom I later used as a character in m.y first 
novel. The Underground Stream . The head of the union, whose 
name was definitely Ryan (and I think it was Joe Ryan) , was 
a husky, well-larded man in his sixties, with a hard, 
florid face and unmistakable authority. He spoke quietly 
unless a different voice was needed, as occurred at one time 
when I was there when some one of his faithful followers 
jumped up to present a motion that Ryan didn't want, and he 
said, "That's out of order," in his quiet voice. The man 
went on, and Ryan's voice suddenly changed, and he said, 
"Sit down." And when he said, "Sit down." it was as though 
lead had come into his voice, and it had dropped a couple of 
octaves, and that man sat down so fast that it was almost 
comic. But one couldn't listen to him for more than a few 
minutes without knowing that he was a very formidable man. 
I mention this because I was so profoundly impressed 
by the way in which Bridges behaved. He sat not too far in 
front of me and at a certain angle, so that when he arose 
to speak I could watch him in profile quite easily. He 
was speaking in an atmosphere that was dripping with hostility 
toward him. He had only, I think, two other representatives 
from the West Coast on his side, and everyone else there 



276 



would have been ready to hit him over the head with a club. 
But he had the courage and the principle to get up and 
present his case for about forty-five minutes — that is, the 
case for his union and for the reason why his union should 
not be expelled. I came upon a description of Harry Bridges 
in the book A Long View from the Left by [Al] Richmond, and 
I want to quote a paragraph from it because it's the best 
characterization I can think of. Richmond writes: "It was 
the first time I heard that sharp blend of Australian accent 
and intent assertiveness , free of rhetorical flourish but 
not devoid of argumentative device. I have since heard him 
speak at formal public meetings where he was meandering and 
disjointed, so that people asked: what's he got? Anyone 
who has heard him as the rough-and-tumble debater in a 
labor setting does not ask that question. To me, at that 
time, he was the articulate protagonist of working-class 
consciousness and militancy, of the power and the promise 
revealed in the general strike." (The general strike refers 
to the fact that after the killing of several longshoremen 
in their strike, there was a general strike of workers in 
San Francisco in sympathy, and that led to the successful 
end of the longshoremen's strike there.) But this is a 
wonderful description of Bridges in debate at this congress. 

The Theatre Union reopened Stevedore in September of 
1934, and it ran for another 64 performances — making it 175 



277 



in all at the Civic Repertory — and this is a successful 
play. It then went to Broadway for a few weeks under 
other auspices, and then we sent it to Philadelphia, 
Washington, Detroit, and Chicago. In Chicago it opened on 
the night of such an enormous blizzard that nobody came to 
the theater. The snow and icy conditions continued for 
another several weeks while we on the Executive Board debated 
about how much money we could continue to pour into this play 
which we knew could be successful in Chicago, but could not 
in those adverse circumstances. Finally we had to close it 
for lack of funds, and we lost money that we could ill 
afford. I read that the play was performed professionally 
in England, with Paul Robeson in the lead, but in London 
it was only moderately successful. However, the first two 
plays of the Theatre Union had played to some 300,000 people, 
and that was a considerable success for what we had set out 
to do. 

Early in the fall, either in the fall of 1934 or early 
in 1935, I was elected to the executive board of the Dramatists 
Guild. The Dramatists Guild and the Authors Guild make up 
the two wings of the Authors League of America. This is the 
professional organization of all authors in the United States. 
It's not a political organization. It could be called . . . 
well, it can't really be called the union, although the 
Dramatists Guild is kind of a union, but it is the economic 



278 



weapon of professional writers in trying to promote their 
interests. And it was something that from time to time 
took a great deal of my time; but I had the attitude in those 
days that it was my obligation, when called upon, to do 
something for such an organization as that was. 

Before the end of the year, my play Black Pit was 
accepted for production by the Executive Board of the Theatre 
Union. But before that we opened another play. Sailors of 
Cattaro, by Friedrich Wolf, adapted by Michael Blankfort. 
Friedrich Wolf was a German physician and playwright, and 
the Sailors of Cattaro referred to the sailors in the Austrian 
fleet who in 1918, I believe, had mutinied against the 
continuation of the war. And their mutiny had involved about 
six other battleships. But because of a certain indecisive- 
ness on the part of the leadership and the sailors, the 
mutiny had been successfully put down, and the leadership 
of the sailors were court-martialed and executed. The 
production was a very fine one, but the play was only a 
middling success in terms of audience popularity; in fact, 
I would say a little less than a middling success. I think 
it had sixty-odd perf orm.ances . Let's hold up for a second, 
[tape recorder turned off] 

Early in January 1935 a theatrical event occurred that 
launched Clifford Odets on his career. On one of the Sunday 
nights that were held from time to time at the Theatre Union's 



279 



civic Repertory Theatre, a production of the first perfor- 
mance of Waiting for Lefty was given. It was an enormous 
success with the audience that was there that night, very 
much a left-wing audience, and it was very well acted by 
members of the Group Theatre. In the light of the fact 
that Elia Kazan subsequently became a celebrated director 
in the theater and then a notorious informer for the House 
Committee on Un-American Activities, it is of considerable 
interest that in Waiting for Lefty he stood center stage 
passionately denouncing a stool pigeon who had informed on 
the taxi union, and saying, "Do you know who he was? He 
was my own brother." Since Kazan had been a schoolmate and 
a friend, I have remembered his performance in that role 
and what he had to say. Waiting for Lefty was an extremely 
well-written play of the agitprop type, and it ended up with 
a kind of euphoric hymn to the revolution to come, with one 
character saying, "coast to coast, hello America! Hello. 
We are storm birds of the working class." And this was 
marvelously exciting to the people of Left political sen- 
timent in the hall. Although I was of that sentiment also, 
I remember that at that moment I did not at all feel the 
wild excitement that most of the audience were exhibiting 
because I felt this was, I guess, rhetoric, not really in 
tune with reality. Ajid I mention this because of what I'm 
going to tell about the reaction to my play Black Pit in a 
little v/hile. 

280 



The rehearsals on Black Pit began in February. As one 
example of Theatre Union policy, we made an effort to get 
as the director of it Herman Shumlin, who is a very well- 
known director and who had done several of Lillian Hellman's 
plays. Shumlin liked the play and wanted to direct it, but 
when I said that we could only pay forty dollars a week, he 
threw up his hands and said he simply could not afford to 
work for that money. Thie director was another schoolmate 
of George Sklar's and mdne, Michael Gordon, who did a very 
good job indeed. Vie had an excellent cast except for the 
leading character--the leading character who was an actor 
I myself had strongly recontmended for the role. He had been 
at Yale, I had seen him act in a number of different plays. 
Physically, he was very right for the role, but I didn't 
knew that emotion=^lly he had become so tight in the years 
since Yale that he was just unable to give the range to the 
character that the role needed. 

I had the task early in rehearsals of teaching the 
actors the proper Slav accent to use, since the play dem.anded 
it, and it wes net any more difficult, of course, for them 
to catch on than it had been for me, and ♦ihey did it very 
well. [tape recorder turned off] 

During the rehearsals of Black Pit , an extremely 
interesting phenomenon occurred: a rumior developed and 
then caught fire among left-wingers around the theater in 



281 



New York that Black Pit was the glorification of a stool 
pigeon. Now, it was indeed the study of a man, a working- 
man, who under great pressure becomes an informer for the 
company superintendent in a coal town, informing on his 
fellows who are trying to organize a union. It was certainly 
not a glorification. I would expect that, looking back, 
the origin of the rumor was the kind of malice that can 
exist in any social movement, or indeed in a bridge c.lub. 
For instance, there were still some left-wing amateur groups 
who were continuing to train their actcrs and to talk about 
the theory of theater and who had net yet done any produc- 
tion--or if they had, it had been some performances in a 
small hall. They were envious and resentful of the fact 
that the Theatre Union had come into existence and had done 
what they had dreamed of doing but had not. Cr perhaps it 
was just some narrow-minded idiot, even associated with 
the Theatre Union, who had started this. But before the 
play opened, there were a good many people who were convinced 
that this was so. And you will see how it was reflected 
in a review or two on the Left. 

But the general reviews were mixed and mostly not 
very fp.vorable, and in some cases, I v;ould think, not very 
fair. For instance. Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times 
said: "Having finished with the ocean and the waterfront, 
the Theatre Union has turned to coal mining in Albert Maltz's 



2i2 



Black Pit , which was put on at the Civic Repertory last 
evening. Although it gathers into a redolent group a 
number of flavorsome characters and lightens the occasion 
with a few flickers of community humor, it is written in 
the old pattern of Bowery melodrama. In this column's 
opinion. Black Pit is the least original of the working- 
class dramas that have been flourishing on Fourteenth Street." 
That's the end of the quotation from Atkinson. There is 
no possibility of my quarreling with his judgment; that's 
his judgment. But when he begins in what I consider to 
be a patronizing manner and says, "Having finished with 
the ocean and the waterfront, the Theatre Union has turned 
to coal mining," he could say about plays of Eugene O'Neill: 
Having finished with the condition of labor in--what was the 
play with Waldheim [that] takes place on a ship and he's a 
stevedore? Hairy Ape . Having finished with labor and with 
the black in Emperor Jones , Mr. O'Neill is now considering 
the emotional turmoil of middle-class people. This is a 
kind of a silly thing but, as I say, I can't quarrel with 
his other judgment. 

In the News Burns Mantle said: "Again there is vigor 
in the speech and a good theatrical foundation beneath the 
play. Again the production is of such a first-class quality 
there is no doubting the conviction of the producers or the 
sincerity of the play's author. And again there is the 



283 



familiar handicap of all propaganda drama, that the auditor 
of open mind finds himself wondering at what point the authen- 
ticity of the picture is to be accepted and the injection 
of the theater is to be suspected. " Now, here we have some- 
thing quite interesting. The reviewer is in earnest, but 
he knows nothing about the conditions of people in labor or 
coal mining areas. [He] obviously has read nothing about it, 
and he simply doesn't know whether what was pictured in 
Black Pit was true or not, and so he is standoffish about 
its "propaganda." On the other hand, he would go to see 
Sidney Howard's interesting play, The Silver Cord , which is 
surely a propaganda play in the sense that it conveys an 
idea or a message: namely, that people who are tormented by 
having a mother who tries to keep them tied to her umbilical 
cord have a need to break away in order to find independent 
lives. But he wouldn't call that propaganda because that 
concerns a psychological, emotional matter, and this concerns 
a social problem. Well, to me, philosophically, one is 
propaganda as much as the other — one no less than the other. 
And that's what one runs into. 

John M£son Brown, New York Post , said: "Mr. Maltz's 
action may be slower than one has come to expect down at 
Fourteenth Street. His last scene may prove to be his 
weakest, and in his overdrawing of such characters as the 
villainous superintendent, he may have succumbed to the 



284 



regrettable weakness of most so-called propaganda scripts. 
But there can be no denying that he does succeed in holding 
one's attention in most of the ten episodes of Black Pit , 
that he does justify his plea for a union, and that he does 
compel one to suffer with his hero as he faces his dilemma." 
Well, I was not really pleading for a union at all. I was 
doing a character study of a man in a squeeze, and if he had 
been in a squeeze about money or a job in an advertising 
firm in New York, it wouldn't have been considered a plea 
for a union in advertising. This is what one ran up against. 
GARDNER: That brings up an interesting point. When you 
were talking about Waiting for Lefty , you said it was an 
agitprop play, essentially. Of course, in a strong sense 
this is propaganda, but at the same time, as you say, it 
is a character study. Now, did you delineate between the 
two as you were writing it? Did you write it as character 
study in a setting? 
MALTZ: That's how I wrote it. 

GARDNER: Or did you have the consciousness of also doing 
a social drama? 

MALTZ: Well, of course I knew it was a social drama, but 
let me put it this way: isn't Tolstoy's War and Peace a 
social document in the sense that the lives of its charac- 
ters are played out against events as they then occurred in 
Russia, with the invasion of Napoleon and all that happened 



285 



as a result of it? One can write plays, novels, stories 
that concentrate purely upon interpersonal relations and 
that's certainly a valid form of literature. But if one 
chooses to present the interaction between individuals and 
their environment, their social environment, in crisis, 
that, to me, is no less a valid literature. But what one 
finds is that those people t.o whom the implications of 
that literature are socially unpleasant point a finger at 
it and say, "Aha! That's propaganda." And I maintain that 
the presence of an idea in a work does not make it propa- 
ganda, no matter what the idea is. I think it's a very false 
dichotomy. For instance, when I brought Fred Siders and 
some other friends in Library, Pennsylvania, to see Black Pit , 
as I did; they didn't consider it propaganda; they considered 
it a play about their lives. 

GARDNER: In a sense, then, wasn't the Theatre Union the 
wrong place to have that play? If you see what I mean? 
MALTZ: No, I don't. Where. . . ? 
GARDNER: In the sense that. . . . 

MALTZ: You mean, if it had been produced by the Theatre Guild? 
GARDNER: Right, if it had been produced in a setting that 
hadn't the established reputation as presenting that sort of 
thing. 

MALTZ: No, because the alertness of critics to a play about 
labor. ... If Eugene O'Neill, then as now, the leading 



286 



American playwright, had, let's say, written Black Pit , they 
would have said he had turned to a propaganda play. [It] 
wouldn't have made any difference what the setting was. 
Although Grapes of Wrath was very successful, there was a 
great storm of hostility against that, an effort to prevent 
it from being made into a film. And sure, there can be 
crudely written plays or amateurishly written plays, which 
Brooks Atkinson claimed this was, and maybe he is right — I'll 
concede it. But it is not amateurish because it deals with 
labor; it could be amateurish because I was an amateurish 
writer handling those materials. Similarly, you can get an 
amateurish play about boy meets girl. The fact is, you see, 
that in the main there just hasn't been in American theater 
plays that dealt with the real problems of working-class 
people. Now, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, which 
was very successful, did deal with the real problems of a 
black family in Chicago. But when you had Stevedore you had 
those real problems not in terms of a son who couldn't hold 
onto money, as I recall it, and who lost it to a confidence 
man, which was easier for critics to accept; but in Stevedore 
you had the plight of black people on tJie dock who needed a 
union and who needed freedom from persecution because of 
their skins. And that was accepted as a propaganda play, 
albeit an exciting and good one. And to me this attitude 
does not bear any analysis, it breaks down. I think it's a 
false one. 

287 



Now, here was a man, John Anderson of the New York 
Journal , a very good critic of that period. He says: 
"As a picture of labor in a West Virginia coal mine it is 
vivid, richly atmospheric, and muscular. Mr. Maltz obviously 
knows what he is writing about, and having chosen sides, 
he writes with unswerving power and singleness of purpose. 
There are no two ways about it." Now, there was a man who 
reacted rather differently. And Robert Garland in the New 
York Telegram said: "Of all the plays the Theatre Union 
stood for and projected. Black Pit is the most theater minded, 
the least obviously propagandist" (contradicting Brooks 
Atkinson) . And then from the Federated Press it says: 
"When Bill Stang, president of District 1 Amalgamated 
Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers, saw Black Pit , 
he is supposed to have barely restrained himself from leaping 
to the stage during the card game scene in which the miners 
plan organization and strike. 'That's it. That's the way 
we really live down there. That might be me and the gang 
right now,' Stang is reported to have said excitedly." So 
you see, it depends upon where a person sits. Oh, turn off, 
please, for a moment. [tape recorder turned off] 

The reviews in the Communist press reflected the rumor 
I mentioned, that Black Pit was the glorification of a stool 
pigeon. In The Political Stage the author, Malcolm Goldstein, 
writes as follows: "But the Communist party press argued 



288 



one point at length: the propriety of the dramatic use of 
the worker as villain. In the Daily Worker Carl Reeve took 
issue with Maltz for holding up to view a proletarian traitor 
without mention of the many loyal members of the working 
class and their equally loyal wives," Let me pause for my 
comment. If this is an accurate reflection of the Carl Reeve 
article, and I have been trying to find it in my scrapbooks, 
it's really a nutty comment because all of the other charac- 
ters in the drama are loyal to the union, or most of the 
others, and it's just a nutty comment. Now, going on from 
Goldstein: "Joseph North stressed the same issue in both 
the New Masses and the Daily Worker , observing that it was 
better to give the workers a dramatic protagonist to emulate 
than one to revile." Now, my comment: this is a remarkable 
example of a desire to go to the theater and feel comfortable, 
and it is a curious counterpart of the attitude of those 
people in those days who would go to Broadway only to see a 
comedy. They didn't want to see a play that disturbed them in 
any way. And in the same way, these extreme left-wingers 
and Communist party members were thrilled out of their minds 
with the rather rhetorically funny ending of the Odets play — 
"Storm birds of the working class arise" — just as though that 
day had already come. That was the effluvia that came from 
the ending. And they didn't want to face the fact that one 
of the enormous problems in the American labor movement was 
the presence of informers . 

289 



As a matter of fact, as a result of all this there was 
after some weeks a Sunday night discussion of this issue at 
the Theatre Union in which there was a spokesman for the 
Communist party, an official one (I emphasize again that 
we were a theater group of no party and that our Socialist 
members were just as active in the group as those several 
Communist members) . And so the spokesman of the Communist 
party, whose name was Clarence Hathaway and who had been a 
machinist for many years and had lost a number of fingers 
while on the job, just stated what I have mentioned: that 
one of the great problems in organizing trade unions was 
the problem of the informer, and that a study of how inform- 
ers were made was a very relevant one. His position caused 
the rumor to die down. But nevertheless, the play, like 
Sailors of Cattaro , was not enormously successful. It ran 
for about eleven weeks, broke even, I guess, and then closed. 
It and Peace on Earth were both published in book form. 
The next play that the Theatre Union put on, and it followed 
Black Pit in the fall of 19 35 [tape recorder turned off] . 

My personal activities were, of course, occurring in a 
world that was moving toward the explosion of World War II, 
and as a necessary background for ray own personal psychology 
and emotion, I want to record a certain number of events 
which I followed with closest attention. I might mention 
that I have gone back to the very scholarly work. The Cold 



290 



War and Its Origins by D.F. Fleming in order to refresh my 
memory on the actual sequence of specific events. 

In March 19 35, Germany decreed universal military 
service. This was a violation of the Versailles treaty, 
and Britain and France could have stepped in with their 
armed forces to stop this, but they did nothing. Several 
months later, in June 1935, Great Britain signed a naval 
treaty with Germany, which also was a violation of the 
Versailles treaty in that it gave Germany the right to 
build as many submarines as it wished. It did this in spite 
of the fact that German submarine warfare had almost starved 
Britain into surrender in World War I. At that time only 
American aid and the convoy system had saved Britain. In 
1935 Italy clearly was moving toward the conquest of 
Ethiopia. It was moving troops on a large scale to its 
North African possessions. England and France made it. clear 
to Italy and Mussolini they would not impose sanctions, 
economic sanctions, through the League of Nations if Italy 
did invade Ethiopia. During this period Japan's invasion 
of China was continuing, and I believe this may have been 
the period (I can't recall exactly) in which forward-looking 
American women. . . . 



291 



TAPE NUMBER: VIII, SIDE ONE 
SEPTEMBER 3, 19 76 

GARDNER: You were discussing the political background. 
MALTZ: In short, it became clear that Britain and France 
were completely ready to appease any Nazi or Italian 
fascist move; and at the same time, they were not respond- 
ing to the repeated pleas and arguments of the Soviet 
Union's representative [Maxim Maximovich] Litvinov in 
the League of Nations for joining with the Soviet Union 
in collective security against fascism. And so the question 
is: Why weren't they? Just this morning I heard Admiral 
Zumwalt mention this appeasement of Hitler by Britain, and 
he said that it was because Chamberlain knew that Germany 
was strong and England was weak, and therefore he felt he 
had to appease it. Well, what Mr. Zumwalt, or Admiral 
Zumwalt, has never learned is that there was a fundamental 
reason for the appeasement, and it had nothing to do with 
the strength or weakness of the two countries. Because 
certainly when Germany had just begun to rearm, it was not 
stronger than England, and England and France combined 
could have walked right in and deposed Hitler for violating 
the Varsailles agreement. And not only did they not need 
to allow Germany to do the various things I have just 
mentioned, but I haven't also mentioned that there were 
loans of money to Germany from England and, I believe, from 

292 



France also. They had a purpose and they felt they were 
achieving it: namely, moving Germany into the position 
where it would attack the Soviet Union. In so doing they 
felt Germany would topple or gravely weaken the one commu- 
nist country that they had tried to overturn themselves 
in 1918 to 1920, and that they would do so without any 
cost of blood on their part. And unless this is understood, 
nothing about that period can be understood. In fact, the 
road, or the path, taken by both England and France would 
seem to be suicidal--since it turned out to be suicidal-- 
but it was not a deliberate suicide on the part of either 
nation. They thought they were pulling a fast one and that 
they would succeed. Hitler, very shrewdly, in his various 
speeches and communiques, kept moving, seemingly, toward 
the east at first, and kept promising that there would be 
peace between his country and England. And this was 
accepted. It was in fact only the Soviet Union and the 
Communist parties of the world at that time that I know about 
. . . maybe I've forgotten the role of the Socialists . . . 
I really don't recall whether they . . . but certainly 
outstandingly the Communist parties that kept saying this 
will lead to war. And in the United States, the Communist 
party of the U.S.A. organized the League Against War and 
Fascism, which became an influential organization with, I 
think, at one point about a million members. And this 



293 



perhaps is a very good example of how the Communist party 
or any other minority, let's say dissenting movement, at 
any point in history works. I want to pause for a moment 
for some observations about this. 

The role of the Communist party in the thirties is 
frequently referred to as being one where the Communists 
bore from within in some trade union or some organization, 
and they got hold of the leadership by their cunning and 
by the fact that they stayed later at meetings than other 
people, and they worked harder than other people. This 
is a kind of absurd mystique which first of all makes of 
the other people who are, after all, other Americans, fools 
who have been led by the nose. But there are some very 
good examples in American history--for instance, the aboli- 
tionists in the 1840s were for the most part reviled in 
America, at least by the powers that be. They were not 
encouraged, they were slandered, but they maintained their 
point of view that slavery was wrong and was to be condemned, 
and they won people to their side because their ideas were 
sound. It was not that they were cunning or that they bored 
from within; if they had had unsound policies, nobody would 
have followed them. In the same way. Earl Browder, the 
secretary of the Communist party at the time, was not 
boring from within in the Roosevelt administration when as 
early as 1928 (as I recently learned) , but also in Washington 



294 



in 1935 at a meeting of the unemployed, he proposed a 
system of socia] security. He was proposing something 
that was sound, and it's now the law of the land, and there 
would be a violent uprising in the United States if there 
was an attempt to take Social Security away from the Ameri- 
can people. Certainly it's so that when the Communists 
have taken positions in any free country which the people 
don't want, the people don't follow them. 

To leap ahead, there was an organization called the 
Theatre Arts Committee in New York City (and branches in 
other cities) which was led by the Communist party, or by 
Communist party members not identified as such, and which 
had come into being around 1938. It did skits at mass 
meetings, and it had vaudeville nights which people attended. 
It did some very funny things and some very interesting 
and satirical things, had some very fine people appearing 
for it, like Zero Mostel, Danny Kaye , and others. But in 
1940. . . . And it had a very large following. When it 
wanted a communique to go down to the White House, I think 
it was about Nazi Germany, and sent a delegation down, the 
delegation was headed by Helen Hayes. But when in 1940 the 
Nazi-Soviet pact came about and when TAG . . . [sound inter- 
ference — tape recorder turned off] . . . when TAG took a 
position of defending the Nazi-Soviet pact, its members 
left it by the hundreds, and overnight it became a nothing 



295 



organization. So that when the Communist party organizer' 
the League Against War and Fascism and found thousands of 
Americans responding to it, they were responding to it 
because they felt that the aims of the organization were 
sound. And that's the only basis upon which anybody ever 
follows anything. At the same time, the Communist party 
organized (and I was involved in this organization and knew 
that the Communist party was involved in it) the League of 
American Writers. This was in the spring of 1935 — an 
organization that became a very influential one in the 
cultural-political scene in the United States for five 
years, and I will talk of it at greater length a little 
later. 

Now, concerning the Soviet Union in this period, no 
thinking person — indeed no one who read the front pages of 
his newspaper — could be without some opinions about the 
Soviet Union. And this would have been so, actually, since 
1917, when the So-^iet Union was invaded by armies from 
France, Britain, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Japan, and by one 
or two divisions of troops from the United States. I might 
say it's to the great credit of the United States that the 
role of our troops there was largely an inactive one due, 
I think, in great measure to the humanity of General Graves, 
who was in charge of our expeditionary force and who appar- 
ently was repelled by what he saw of the treatment of 



296 



Russians by the various other armies. But from that time 
in 1917, there was an ocean of anti-Soviet propaganda all 
over the world, [tape recorder turned off] 

Fleming, on page 46 of his first volume, in a chapter 
called "Communism Confined and Ostracized," writes: 
"Beginning in 1925, Schuman ..." (a scholar, I think at 
Williams) "... collected the following series of head- 
lines in the Tribune . " (This was the Chicago Tribune . ) 
This newspaper, says Fleming, "boasting on August 25, 1926, 
that it 'alone among the great American journals' had pain- 
fully but successfully defied the 'garbling censorship of 
the Red government, ' published a stream of articles which 
would lead its widespread readers to conclude that there 
was a never-ending series of revolts in Russia." For instance, 
October 26, 1925, headline: Soviets Fight Famine As Grain 
Myth Explodes. June 15 of the same year: Claim Starving 
Poor Threaten Doom of Soviet. November 15 of the same year: 
Russians Free! To Rob, Starve, Murder, and Die. November 
26: Siberia Tries to Shake Off Moscow's Yoke. March 26: 
Secret Report Shows Russia Near Collapse. July 30, 1926: 
Uncover Secret Terrorist Plot to Seise Russia. August 7, 
1926: Rumania Hears of Widespread Russian Revolt. August 4, 
1926: Soviet Party in Chaos as Trade, Industry Totter. I 
won't go on with these headlines, but they are an important 
example for this reason: after a while people ceased to 



297 



believe them. I remember that when I was at college, 
[Aleksandr] Kerensky, who had been the Social Democratic 
premier of Russia when he was overthrown by the Bolsheviks, 
gave a lecture. He proved to me and, I think, to others in 
the audience that Soviet finances were in such a state that 
within two months at the outside, the Red government would 
collapse. Well, then it didn't collapse. And so I and 
others said, well, he was so sure, and he convinced us — 
what's wrong? And then there came a rather celebrated 
expose of the New York Times role in this false reporting 
on the Soviet Union. The expose was done by Walter Lippmann, 
I think with a collaborator. And the Times , as a result of 
it, changed its policy, and I think it began to change some 
of the reporting, at least, in other newspapers in the United 
States . 

But the result of these years of phony reporting 
conditioned not a few people to believe that all negative 
reports on the Soviet Union were probably fallacious. Now, 
I'm sure--I know — that all negative reports were not falla- 
cious. But I was one of those who came to believe that, if 
not all, practically all negative reports were probably 
fallacious. And "defend the Soviet Union" became the serious 
political slogan of millions the world over because at that 
time, without knowing other things that were going on in 
the Soviet Union, it seemed to a great many people, and to 



298 



an increasing number of people as they watched the Soviet 
role in trying to stop fascism, that the Soviet Union had 
to be defended against these new attempts to destroy her. 
As an example of this, for instance, I want to quote 
a hymn written by Sean 'Casey: "Morning Star, Hope of 
the People, Shine on Us. Red Star extending till thy five 
rays come a 'covering the world, give a great light to those 
who still sit in the darkness of poverty's persecution. 
Herald of a new life, of true endeavor, of common sense, of 
a world's peace, of man's ascent, of things to do bettering 
all things done; the sign of labor's shield, the symbol on 
the people's banner; Red star, shine on us all." Now, Sean 
O 'Casey was a very distinguished man of letters. I don't 
know whether he was ever a member of the British Communist 
party, but obviously there's no question of where his 
sympathies are and one has to ask: Why did 'Casey write 
something that today many people would look at and say, 
"Why, this is idiocy. What was wrong with the man? He 
had a hole in his head"? Only if one understands that he 
wrote this without a hole in his head, with the deepest 
sincerity, with such gratitude in his heart for what he 
thought the Soviet Union meant to the future of humanity, 
can one understand the political activities and positions 
taken by millions of people in the world in the thirties. 
I don't know what 'Casey would have said before he died in. 



299 



I think, the fifties, but this is what he wrote in the 
thirties. And it is really a most profound symptom of 
the attitudes at that time on the part of many people. 
Since the Soviet Union hid from the world the Gulag side 
of its life, which first started to be officially exposed 
by Khrushchev in the year 1956 or 1957--I think '56-- 
(and which is carried to its height by the volumes of 
[Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn on the Gulag Archipelago--since 
it was quite successfully hidden by the Soviet Union, 
millions like myself knew nothing about it. I would say 
that the self-serving propaganda of the Soviet establishment 
was something new in world history, because good and evil 
were so inextricably mixed in their society. It was a 
society that took a vast country — it was, let's say, a 
governing body that took a vast country that had been 
industrially backward and changed it into an industrial 
power of great strength. It was an establishment that 
changed 200 million who were illiterate to being literate. 
It was a society that brought universities to every section 
of the country where there had been none, who took the Moslem 
veil off the women in certain sections of the country and 
freed them from their oppressed status. And side by side 
with it, but unknown to most people in the world, it was 
inhumanly torturing and executing those whom it considered 
to be its political enemies and, even worse, imprisoning 



300 



or shooting or deporting into Siberia enormous sections of 
the peasantry who resisted government policies. But as a 
result of its successful propaganda, when the Coiranunist 
party leader of the Leningrad organization was murdered in 
1934, I and others accepted the official assertion that 
various prominent leaders of the Communist movement, who 
had been for years fighters for communism, that is to say, 
men like Zinoviev, Kamenev, and others, were guilty of this 
murder. [tape recorder turned off] However, as en example 
of what actually went on in the Soviet Union, I would refer 
readers to an extraordinary volume called Let History Judge : 
The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism by Roy A. Medvedev, 
published by Knopf. This is the first available study in 
English by a Soviet scholar of the Stalinist system. 

In the spring of '35, in April, there was a. . . . 
[tape recorder turned off] The organization of this league 
was signaled by what was called the First American VJriters 
Congress, which was held in New York. And I hope before I 
finish these tapes to get hold of the book that was published 
of the proceedings of the congress — and a second and, I 
believe, a third of subsequent congresses — so that I can 
give a little more material on what was contained in them. 
For instance, I do know that among the signers of the call 
for the first congress were John Dos Passes, James T. Farrell, 
Waldo Frank, Michael Gold, Langston Hughes, John Howard 



301 



Lawson, others like Paul Peters, George Sklar and myself. 
And I remember that it was attended by people anywhere from, 
let's say, the liberal sector of society or by writers to, 
let's say, the Communist — those who were Communist party 
members. And it was a mobilization of people, not for 
economic purposes as with the Authors League, and not for 
craft purposes, although at certain times, especially in 
the second congress, I think, in 1937, there was an attempt 
to deal with certain craft problems. It was primarily a 
political, cultural gathering for the purpose of fighting 
fascism. I've left out the name of Lillian Hellman — I'm 
sure she was there — and I know that Dashiell Hammett gave 
a paper at the second congress, so I presume he may have 
signed at the first. And I guess — since I may forget it 
while I go through these materials — I ought to mention, 
since it is in my mind now, that President Franklin Roosevelt 
became a silent member of it. That is to say, he sent a 
note asking to join and that his name be put on the lists, 
and I heard this from the executive secretary — not imme- 
diately but later, although it was never publicly announced. 
The result of the first session was the election of Waldo 
Frank as president, first president of the league, and of 
an executive board of which I was a member. Oh, yes, I 
remember Malcolm Cowley was another of the signers, and I 
remember him on the executive board. But I hope to get 



302 



some more materials. 

During that spring the Theatre Union board approved 
an adaptation by Paul Peters of a play, with music by 
Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler, called Mother . This was 
not the play Mother Courage , which is a better-known play 
by Brecht, but it's a play that was a dramatization of a 
novel by Gorky. Paul Peters had translated the play from 
the German and had read it to the Executive Board and as 
well had given us his suggestions for ways in which, by an 
adaptation, he would adapt the play and add some new scenes. 
The board considered that the play was gravely inadequate 
in its literal translation, and we would not have accepted 
it for production at all, but we felt that the ideas Paul 
Paters had were very good. We got in touch with Bertolt 
Brecht, who then was living in Denmark since he had fled 
from Germany, and he gave his permission for an adaptation 
to be made. And so we authorized Peters to do it. I'm 
going to talk about what happened subsequently, when I come 
to dealing with the fall of that year. 

The summer of 1935 was one in which I spent in the 
New York area. By that time I had developed a relationship 
with Margaret Larkin, who was the executive secretary, and 
she had a serious illness and was in the hospital, and I 
stayed around New York because of that. And then when she 
was recuperating, she had the offer of a home in the town 



303 



of Croton, and I went up there with her for some weeks. I'll 
mention about her that she came from the town of Las Vegas, 
New Mexico (this is not to be confused with the Las Vegas in 
Nevada), a small town, and because she enjoyed playing the 
guitar and enjoyed singing, -she gathered, without any par- 
ticular purpose in mind, while she was a young woman there, 
cowboy folk songs. And after her graduation from college 
and working for a few years in that area as a newspaperwoman, 
she met some easterners and decided to try to come East, 
and arrived in New York with about ten dollars, a ten-gallon 
hat and her guitar, and got her first job singing cowboy 
songs in a Yiddish cafe on Second Avenue. I think it was 
not too long before she sang some of her songs at a party 
at which Alfred Knopf was present, and he said he would like 
to publish a book of them. And a book did result in which 
the musical arrangements were made by Margaret's friend 
Helen Black, whom she had met in Santa Fe . This book 
Singing Cowboy was the source book for a generation of 
singers who took songs from it, some of them cowboy singers 
in films who were well known. And subsequently, she took 
jobs as a publicity director in a strike that ?:ent on for 
many, many months in Patterson, New Jersey, and then for 
a textile union in Gastonia, North Carolina. [tape recorder 
turned off] If any material is wanted on her, what exists 
is in the Boston University library. I forgot to mention 



304 



that I used to urge her (and she never would) to join the 
Daughters of the American Revolution because one part of 
her family had come here from England starting, I think, 
in 16 30 or so as indentured servants, and others from 
Germany around 1650. She had the entire genealogy. And 
one of the things that she had of her past was a sword that 
I guess a great-grandfather had used in the Civil War as 
commander of a regiment of black troops. And she had a 
flag which we used to hang out, after we were married, every 
Fourth of July, which had only about twenty or twenty-two 
stars on it — somewhat tattered, but very lovely. And to 
my horror, the flag somehow disappeared during the time that 
we moved, as we did many years later, to Mexico. It really 
should be in the university along with some of her other 
things . 

This is perhaps the moment in which to make this kind 
of comment. There is among the young generation today a 
descriptive phrase of "a man and a woman living together" 
in what they call an "unstructured relationship," meaning 
that they are living together and they're not married. And 
it is felt that this is a new and radical departure in 
American society. Well, in fact, the bohemian, intellectual 
set in the United States in large cities like New York and 
Chicago and so on after World War I went in for that type 
of relationship. And among them it was considered very 



305 



bourgeois for a couple to get married. So that if a couple 
really wanted to get married for their personal reasons, 
they usually sneaked off and got married quietly without 
telling any of their friends. And interestingly enough, 
it was quite the accepted thing when Margaret Larkin and I 
began to live together. It was later, under the influence 
of the Communist party, that left-wingers, intellectuals, 
began to marry because the Communist party wanted its member- 
ship not to be unlike other American people who believed 
in marriage. So you have this curious turn of history in 
this area of personal relationships. In the fall I. . . . 
GARDNER: What were you working on yourself at this point? 
MALTZ : Oh, yes, I'm glad you mentioned that, because I had 
a note and I forgot about it. That siommer, I know, I wrote 
the short play Private Hicks , and I wrote it really because 
the New Theatre League, which was an organization that came 
into being and published a magazine called New Theatre , had 
a $100 play contest. I took a whack at trying to get the 
first prize, and I did. Now, $100 in those days, I think, 
probably was close to ... I don't know, maybe it was . . . 
I think breakfast, at that time, of orange juice, a couple 
of eggs, I don't know whether bacon, but toast and coffee, 
cost about a quarter. What would it cost today? 
GARDNER: Depending on where, but generally two dollars. 
MALTZ: Yes, well, mine I was just getting in a drugstore 



306 



in Greenwich Village. 

GARDNER: I'm sure in a drugstore in Greenwich Village it 
would be at least two dollars. 

MALTZ: It'd be two dollars. All right, so that's eight 
times--right? — twenty-five. So $100 would be about $800 
today. That feels about right. Because with $100 you 
really could do things. When I consider that I bought a 
very good suit in the year 1939 at a shop — and I'm going to 
talk about this later because it's amusing — at a clothing 
store on lower Fifth Avenue which deliberately said, "I7e 
have cheap prices," and so on and so forth; but it was a 
marvelously strongly made, good tweed, Irish tweed suit for 

twenty-five dollars--with vest. There is that comparison. 
So when I was after $100, it was a lot more than $100 seems 
to be today . 

Now, since Black Pit had been done '. . .oh, yes, since 
it was done and went on in February of 19 35, I know that after 
that I was trying to work on a play, and I went out of town 
various times to a place in Connecticut I knew, but I hadn't 
gotten anywhere particularly on it. And I don't remember 
whether as yet I started to turn toward short stories. I 
think I did probably by the fall of '35. But in the fall 
I did a number of things that were important for me personally. 

First, Elmer Rice, whom I knew from the Dramatists 
Guild, accepted the post of head of the Federal Theater [Project] 



307 



in New York, which had been newly created under the WPA, and 
he asked me to be his assistant. And I thanked him but 
said I wanted to give all my time to writing, something like 
that, and didn't do it, I did, either then or maybe it was 
a little later, agree to serve on the contract committee 
of the Dramatists Guild, which was the committee within the 
guild set up to prepare the ground for a new contract with 
the producers, and that took a good deal of time--a great 
deal of time to study the imperfections of the old contract and 
work out a new one. And I remember that on that committee 
were Elmer Rice and Owen Davis, and a man whose face I can 
see but I forget his name. I don't know. . . . There were 
about eight or ten on it, and I guess I was there as the 
youngest member to provide whatever that would give. But 
that fall I also took the most important move of all, which 
was to join the Communist party. 

I had been moving toward that step, i guess, ever since 
around 1931. When I took it, I certainly didn't take it 
lightly, and I had to overcome some anxieties on my part 
about it. Because I think that this is something rather 
important that I have not seen written about and that is just 
generally not understood at large: to join the Communist 
party in the year 1935 or in subsequent years was to be aware 
that it might result in one type or another of personal harm 
that you certainly didn't look forward to. On the one hand. 



308 



everyone knew what had happened to Communists in Germany 
at the hands of the Nazis: they had been murdered, beaten 
to death, put into concentration camps, others were under- 
ground, others with more good fortune had escaped the country, 
No one was given any bonus of any sort for joining the 
Communist party. If you had a small career going, as, say, 
I did, you were not going to enhance that career; more 
than likely, it was going to be the opposite. You certainly 
received no financial return for it. You kind of closed 
off your thoughts to the possibility that the time might 
come when you would be treated as Communists in Germany were 
being treated, or as I myself might have been treated if 
I had not left Sisseton, South Dakota, when I did. But 
on the other hand, Sisseton, South Dakota, and a good many 
other events in the United States were signals of what could 
happen in the United States if people did not get together 
and work for a society in which that would not occur. 



30 a 



TAPE NUMBER: VIII, SIDE TWO 
SEPTEMBER 16, 19 76 ' 

GARDNER: Now, you had left off last time at the beginning 
of a discussion of your joining the Communist party. 
MALTZ: I want to perhaps comment a little on my last state- 
ment. It is true that if I had known of the deeply repres- 
sive aspects of the Soviet system, I would not have joined 
the Communist party of the United States because the two 
were linked so much. And yet, in the year 1935 this contra- 
diction existed: that even if I had not joined the Communist 
party, the political situation in the United States and the 
world was such that I still would have supported the aims 
and policies of both the Communist party of the United States 
and of the Soviet Union. My mind would have allowed no 
other choice because I wanted to stop the spread of fascism. 
I wanted to stop the spread of fascism and prevent the world 
war that I felt was looming up. The Soviet Union was the 
only major power struggling to do this, and the Communist 
party in the United States was leading the educational and 
organizational struggle against it here. However, returning 
to my actual situation, since I at that time had no knowledge 
of this repressive side of the Soviet system, I knew only 
the benign aspects as the Soviet Union promulgated them to 
the world. And since I believed that the Soviet Union on 
the world scene, and the Communist party on the American scene, 

310 



stood for humanity's hope for world brotherhood and peace 
and social progress, my conscience made me join the party 
despite whatever personal anxieties I had. It literally 
was an act of conscience on my part. And I believe that it 
was an act of conscience for, let's say, 99 percent of the 
men and women who joined in every country in the world. 
Now, of course I am not speaking of the Soviet Union or 
of any subsequent country where a Communist government was 
in power, because there would be many reasons, including 
opportunistic reasons, for joining the Communist party. 
But speaking of all the other countries of the world in 
19 35, the Communist parties making up the world Communist 
movement offered a glorious vision: that they would end 
man's inhumanity to man. 

Now, I joined a rather special group. I might say that 
Communist party groups which have been referred to in many 
accounts as cells were never called cells in the Communist 
party: this was a term that someone invented, but it's a 
myth. Groups in the Communist party were generally organized 
on either a neighborhood basis or a job and industry basis. 
That is to say, if someone worked in an automobile plant, 
then that person would be likely to be in a group of other 
automobile workers. But let's say the wife of a man who 
worked in an automobile plant might be, if she were a 
Communist party member, in a group formed in her neighborhood. 



311 



That about sums up for the most part the way in which Commu- 
nist groups were organized. But the group I joined was of 
selected professionals. It was very small and there were 
rather a number of people who, because of their positions 
in society, had to be protected from any knowledge, even 
among other Communist party members, that they were members. 
And so we in that group did not disclose even to other 
Communist party members that we were members of the party. 

Now, this brings me to a larger question of secrecy. 
I not long ago was discussing with someone the whole matter 
of why members of the Communist party in the United States 
for the most part remained secret members during the thirties 
and the forties, aside, usually, from actual Communist party 
functionaries. One can understand why this was so by taking 
a look at history. For instance, from the years roughly of 
1830 to 1860, no one who lived in the southern half of the 
United States and who was an abolitionist could admit to 
being an abolitionist without suffering very serious conse- 
quences, up to death through lynching. Now, someone who 
believed that slavery was an evil would gladly have spoken 
out about that if the society in which he lived were truly 
democratic and would permit free speech. But when your free 
speech can result at the least in your losing a job or a 
farm, or at the most in your being tarred and feathered and 
beaten to death, or shot down--as abolitionists were in the 



312 



South--then you keep quiet about it. 

Or to give another example, in the 1930s it would only 
be at the risk of a beating or worse that menibers of trade 
unions, of secret trade unions, in certain communities all 
across the United States would admit that they were union 
members. During the years, for instance, in which auto and 
steel were being organized into industrial unions, those 
years comprising, let's say, from about 1933 to 1937 and '38, 
membership in a steel or auto workers union had to be kept 
secret. It was the only way in which people could be safe. 
Therefore, to charge the abolitionists, or to charge the 
members of trade unions, with being moles burrowing from 
within, or in being secretive for some, let's say, unpatri- 
otic reason, is to miss the fundamental fact that they were 
not living in a society that permitted them to stand openly 
for what they did stand. A fully democratic society would, 
of course, never punish people who had radical ideas. The 
society, if it were truly Jef f ersonian, would follow his 
principle that all ideas should have the right to be heard, 
and then they could be discussed and refuted if they were 
wrong. But some of the very people who would most loudly 
condemn, and justly so, the Soviet government today for its 
repression of all dissident ideas are blind to the fact that 
they themselves helped to create an atmosphere in the 19 30s 
and 19 40s and later on which forced Communists or others here 



313 



to remain secretive about their full opinions and organi- 
zational ties. 

Now, the manner in which the party group of which I 
was a member functioned was the following. [tape recorder 
turned off] 

GARDNER: Before you go into that, I'd like to ask, out of 
my own curiosity, I guess, what were the mechanics of joining'; 
That's something that is cloaked in mystery as well. 
MALTZ : I wish you'd ask all such questions like that that 
occur to you. 
GARDNER: Oh, I will. 

MALTZ: The mechanics for joining were generally this. 
Let's say someone was active in the League of American 
Writers or in the Theatre Union or in the League Against 
War and Fascism. ... Or to put another example, one became 
friends with someone, and after some time and many conver- 
sations, one felt that here was an individual whose concerns 
for humanity, vhose sense of justice, whose appraisal of 
politics were such that he might be a proper member of the 
Communist party. And so that question might be broached: 
How would you like to join the Communist party so that you 
can put your ideas at work in association with other people? 
Now, I don't recall whether I happen to have mentioned this 
earlier, but in all history where people have sought to 
effect any change in society they have had to get together 



314 



for a common purpose. 

For instance, suppose the purpose is to prevent 
rheumatic heart disease in children, and there is a need for 
additional research. The research cannot be carried out 
without funds; to raise funds you need people to get together 
to plan programs, to educate in society, to have, let's say, 
door-to-door campaigns raising money, or to try and get 
some personality as ... I forget his name ... as Jerry 
Lewis, who is interested in muscular dystrophy and who 
raises so much money on a TV program. This is an example of 
social action. Social action by and large cannot be the 
work of one person. There are extraordinary instances, per- 
haps, in which it is, but in the main social action depends 
upon groups, and the larger the group the more effective it is 

This was a very fundamental argument, let's say, that 
brought me into the communist movement. If I really wanted 
to try and stop a second world war, if I really wanted to 
see fascism stopped from spreading, was I going to do it 
just by thinking right, by myself? Or was I going to join 
with others in action? And it would be that which would be 
presented to someone. You'd say: hey, how about you join 
the Communist party and put your shoulder to the wheel with 
others and become more effective than you can possibly be 
alone? 
GARDNER: And so then you'd be invited to a . . . ? 



315 



WALTZ: Then you would be invited. If someone, let's say, 
might say, "Well, I've been wondering about it myself, but 
I'm wondering about this, and how about this, and what about 
party discipline, and what about the dues, or what about how 
much work there would be?" all of these things would be 
answered. And if they were answered to the satisfaction of 
the person, he might then say, "I'm ready to join." And at 
that point, usually, he was brought a party card and asked 
to sign a card (actually, in the group I belonged to, there 
were no cards. I did not sign any cards) , and then was 
invited to become a member of a given group, along the lines 
that I explained before. Now, such a person might eventually 
become a . . . might quickly become a dedicated member of 
the Communist party or might quickly drop out of the Commu- 
nist party. One never knew. Or one might be a member for 
two years and then drop out; and [one] might drop out and 
remain friendly to the party or might drop out and become 
very hostile to the party. One never knew. [tape recorder 
turned off] Have I answered your question? 
GARDNER: I think so, yes. Now, I guess you can describe 
more fully the group that you were in. 

MALTZ : Yes, I'm going to now. The group that I was in met, 
as I recall, once a week but it may have been (so long ago) 
once every two weeks. I'm not sure. But it was not rigid 
in the sense that, let's say, since we were small, if a number 



316 



of people had something very special that bound them up in 
time, we might skip a meeting. For the summer, since we 
were professionals and most of us left the city for a period 
of time in the summer or longer, we wouldn't meet then. 
GARDNER: When you say professionals, what do you mean? 
Were they mostly in the arts: lawyers, doctors, that sort 
of thing? 

MALTZ : They were a cross section of people--an educator, 
several writers, people in some other professions. Now, a 
meeting would consist always of a political discussion of 
certain current events, and there might be a presentation 
by the group leader of certain things; or it might be any 
one of the group who might have been asked the week before 
to prepare a discussion on some topic. Or it might be a 
discussion of a certain work of Marxism that we were reading 
in common. One of the members would always bring in the 
newest pamphlet or pamphlets, if there were some, that had 
been produced by, let's say, printed by the Communist party 
and some issues of Political Affairs , which was the theoret- 
ical journal of the Communist party, which we would tnen 

buy. There were always things for ten cents or fifteen cents, 
[that] kind of thing. Certain basic questions were discussed 
from time to time--for instance, what was then called the 
"Negro question" (which was the word then in use amongst 
progressive people, rather than black ) . That question was 



317 



greatly involved with the Communist position at that time 
which had to do with self-determination for the Negro people, 
but it isn't something I want to linger on now. 

Or [there were discussions of] the "woman question." 
Now, the woman question, interestingly enough, let's say 
about thirty years before the women's liberation movement 
began here, was a discussion of women's liberation — not with 
the fullness with which we've seen it in recent years, but 
in its fundamental aspects: namely, that women should be 
the equal of men in all areas of society; there must be equal 
pay for equal work; there should be special consideration 
for working women who became pregnant with proper time off 
before and after the birth of a child, and proper facilities 
for child care if they went back to work; that it was the 
obligation of male members of the Communist party to see 
that their wives did not have the whole burden of household 
chores. When the man came home from work, since the woman 
had been working also, either in an outside job or in the 
home with children, the man could do dishes just as well as 
a woman, and to just sit back and read the newspaper, or read 
a Marxist text while your wife did the dishes, was not the 
behavior of someone who was trying to fight against the 
chauvinism in our society toward women. Now, this I think 
was very admirable and, I expect, little known. But I've 
known more than one household of couples who once were in 



318 



the Corrmnunist party who maybe have not been in the Communist 
party for twenty years, but where the sharing of certain 
chores around the house are still being carried out by the 
husband equally with the wife because of the attitude that 
they accepted which came down through the ranks of the Com- 
munist party. 

And certainly at our meetings we would discuss the events 
in Europe because that was a time of profound and very serious 
political movements in Europe. Now, if some of us had certain 
problems or issues in connection with organizational work 
that we were doing and wanted to have some discussion of it 
in our group, we could bring it up and ask for discussion 
and advice. For instance, supposing there was some problem 
in the League of American Writers, that could be brought up. 
Or anything could be brought up. 

We paid dues to the party. The minimum dues were always 
very small, I think something like a dollar a month for 
employed persons and perhaps ten cents for unemployed, or 
five cents. I no longer recall. But if someone was earning 
more money, then it was expected and encouraged that the 
person would give more money. And it was assumed that if 
someone joined the party they joined it for a good reason. 
And undoubtedly in a party group which was in a trade union, 
formed of trade union members, there would be discussion of 
trade union activities, and decisions would be arrived at 



319 



at how to vote on certain issues that were going to come 
up before the trade union. And to me, this is a perfectly 
natural phenomenon, although it has been described very 
negatively as boring from within and as being conspiratorial 
in nature. 

I want to pause over this because these terms of oppro- 
brium, I think, don't bear any serious reflection. For 
instance, let's compare the Republican convention of August 
1976, where delegates came pledged to Reagan and others care 
pledged to Ford and where they maneuvered on the platform 
committee, maneuvered in^ the platform committee and during 
the debate on rules, and where, by the use of demonstrations 
and noisemakers, they did everything they could to win for 
their candidates. This is of the very nature of what all 
people do when they have convictions and they want their 
candidates and their ideas and their ideals to triumph. It 
is not antidemocratic, but it is a part of the democratic 
process itself. In a sense in which the terms "boring from 
within" or "conspiring to take control" have been applied 
to the Communist party, they apply with equal validity to 
both the followers of Reagan and those of Ford. But the 
terms are as false as applied to the different sides in the 
Republican convention as they are to the role of the Communist 
party members in different organizations in the thirties and 
the forties and the fifties. 



320 



To give another example, when at the end of the forties 
various trade unions led by Communist leaders were expelled 
from the CIO, obviously this expulsion was preceded by private 
caucusing on the part of those who did the expelling. Was 
this conspiratorial? I don't think so; I think it was the 
nature of the democratic process. And then we have as 
regular features of our national government Republican and 
Democratic caucuses in Congress. Therefore, if within a 
trade union there was a caucus of Communists or a caucus of 
anti-Communists or caucus of Socialists who then would present 
their ideas to the trade union as a whole, which the members 
of the trade union could accept or reject, there was nothing, 
to me, undemocratic in the existence of those caucuses, I'm 
going to go to something entirely different now, unless you 
have any questions. 

GARDNER: No, I don't think so. I think you've described 
pretty well what the setting was into which you went. As 
things occur to me, as this goes along. . . . 
MALTZ: Fine. Now we are in the fall of 1935, and my per- 
sonal activities at that time, aside from my writing, con- 
sisted of my steady work in the Theatre Union, which was 
always substantial, my being on the executive board of the 
League of American Writers and helping to decide the policies 
of that organization, and at that time, I believe, being on 
the contract committee of the Dramatists Guild and with 



321 



others working to prepare a new contract to present to the 
producers association. And always, from time to time, there 
were other matters that would be called to my attention, 
things that I have forgotten. But such a thing pops into my 
mind as being asked to read the manuscript of a friend — 
of a book or of a play. These were all time-consuming 
matters, and it brings me to something that affected my 
life deeply, and that was the enormous problem of my struggle 
for writing time. [tape recorder turned off] 

There's a dictum that Thoreau wrote, but I unfortunately 
did not become acquainted with it until, oh, perhaps ten 
or more years ago, and it is this: that the cost of some- 
thing is the amount of life-force that you put into it. And 
I believe that I paid too high a cost of, let's say, my 
life-force for too many things that had too little result. 
Now, the reason why I did it is because there was my great 
desire to write, on the one hand, and on the other hand, 
there was the tremendous pull that I felt of what one might 
call my obligations as a citizen. Now, if I had been someone 
who, let's say, was just unequipped temperamentally to work 
organizationally with other people, or if I hadn't had the 
ability to make public speeches, as I discovered I could, 
or if I simply had not had the response I did to the issues 
of the day, then I never would have had any problem in this 
area of finding writing time. But the history of literature 



322 



demonstrates that an enormous number of writers have been 
similarly affected. 

For instance, Victor Hugo became a member of parlia- 
ment in the 1840s and became less and less of a writer in 
terms of how he was using his days, and more and more of 
a politician as he saw his country being moved toward the 
dictatorship that came about in the year 1850 when, because 
of his opposition to the coup of Louis Napoleon, he had to 
flee for his life because there was a price on his head. 
He then after that was in exile for sixteen years, and while 
he did a great deal of writing in the course of those years, 
the first years especially were occupied with an enormous 
amount of just political work: of writing tracts against 
Napoleon, of meetings with other exiles to decide on policies, 
and so on. 

Or we have Zola, who provides something very illuminating, 
Zola was a young man trying to make his mark as a writer in 
the year 1870, when the Paris Commune was established and 
when German armies were surrounding Paris. The only thing 
that apparently concerned him at the time was that the noise 
of artillery made it difficult for him to write. He was not 
concerned with the political issues. But around the year 
189 7, I think it was, when he became involved in the Dreyfus 
case, he was a completely political man, fighting a case of 
injustice, forced to sleep in different houses at night in 



323 



order to evade vigilante mobs, and finally forced to flee 
to England to avoid prison. {tape recorder turned off] 
And if one wants to follow out, if one wants to examine 
the life of Diego Rivera and the life of [David Alfaro] 
Siqueiros, you find the same factors at work. 

As a matter of fact, a speech that I made in 1947, 
"The Writer As the Conscience of the People," is concerned 
very much with the activities of citizen writers and goes 
down the line of a great many writers who were so involved. 
In the urgencies of the thirties, I never solved the question 
at all; let's say I solved it very poorly, because if, as 
a member of the Theatre Union with a desire to see the theater 
keep alive, I was asked to go make a speech to the Finnish 
Cultural Cub in Brooklyn, I might travel an hour on the 
subway and find myself in a hall where there were fifty people, 
And yet those fifty people might take a benefit and might 
sell 200 tickets, and this would be a help to our struggling 
theater. 

And so when one enters into an activity such as the 
Theatre Union, an immense amount of work that you don't 
foresee accumulates and must be taken care of if you are not 
to fail the main aim. And so, involved as I was in that and 
other things, I know that there were periods of time — I guess 
as we moved toward World War II — when I might have spent 
fifteen hours of work a week writing and, let's say, sixty 



324 



hours doing other things which were concerned with social 
urgencies. What kept me producing was that my wife and I 
did take long summers away from New York, lasting anywhere 
[from] two to four months, and I did intensive writing in 
those periods. 

GARDNER: In other words, what you are saying is that, in 
retrospect, you sold your writing short in a lot of ways 
by the. ... 

MALTZ : I feel that. For instance, the contract committee 
of the Dramatists Guild was a useful thing, but since I 
was so heavily involved in the Theatre Union as I was, I 
think I should have said, well, I've got to decide: the 
Theatre Union or the contract committee, I can't do both; 
or if it is the Theatre Union or the League of American 
Writers, instead of taking them all on. [sound interference- 
tape recorder turned off] The reason why I say that I 
was wrong not to make a choice was that, after all, for 
every organization for which I worked, there were many for 
which I didn't, all of which were worthwhile. So at what 
point do you stop? And obviously, I did stop somewhere, 
and there was no reason why I shouldn't have stopped short 
sooner than I did — or shorter than I did. [laughter] 

During this period I made a turn from playwriting to 
fiction, and there were two reasons why I did that. The 
first was that I became impatient with what could happen to 



325 



a play in production. One worked very hard to make the play 
the best thing you can, to do the best work you can, and then 
by selection of the wrong actor, such as a selection I par- 
ticipated in in my play Black Pit , what comes out for audi- 
ences is not as good as what you wrote. But since that's 
always possible in the process of transmuting a play from 
script to theater, I felt that I would prefer if possible 
to have the security of fiction, where what you write is 
what is printed. But secondly, I felt that I wanted to try 
and create characters with more depth and complexity than 
I felt the play form permitted me to do. (I can't say per- 
mitted anyone to do, because Shakespeare obviously created 
characters of infinite complexity.) But I felt I might 
achieve better results in the field of fiction. So I began 
then to write some short stories, and later I'll comment 
on what happened to them. 

During this period a play I had written in the summer. 
Private Hicks , a one-act play, won first prize in the 
New Theatre League contest and was presented in a very fine 
Sunday-night production of the Theatre Union, together with 
a play by Paul Green (a marvelous play, by the way) . And 
it received a great many performances in what we might call 
"new theaters" all over the country, which were left-wing 
theaters that sprang into existence around the middle thirties 
in perhaps thirty or forty cities in the United States, 



326 



Canada, England, and in one or two cities in Australia. 
(Interestingly enough, many of them began with a first 
production of Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets; it was 
the spark plug that excited people interested in the theater.) 

And a stream of letters began to come into the Theatre 
Union from groups all over the country, asking advice on 
how to organize a theater, how to sustain it, how to do 
this and that. And as a result, Margaret Larkin wrote a 
pamphlet on how to organize a theater, which was sent out 
whenever somebody wrote in with these questions. 

I think I want to mention that it was, I believe, in 
the fall of 1935, or the winter of 1935, that I attended 
a trial in a Manhattan court for one day. Now, I must have 
done 100, 500 things in those days which were like this, not 
necessarily attending a trial, of course, but I've forgotten 
them and I've remembered this for obvious reasons. There 
were several demonstrations by antifascists when the Nazi 
passenger ship Bremen came to New York City. And in one of 
the demonstrations some of the demonstrators got on board 
the ship and were subsequently arrested and held for trial. 
I learned that one of the men had been seized by Nazis on 
board the ship, taken below decks, and castrated and then 
let go. He was on trial for disorderly conduct, or what- 
ever the charges were, and I went to the trial. I remember 
his face: he was a tall, husky man, young. He looked as 



327 



though he might have come from one of the Scandinavian 
countries. And I thought then, as I have thought since, 
of the price that he paid for his political passion. I 
feel sure that if he had known what price he was going to 
pay, he wouldn't have left the dock and gone on board the 
ship. Why he went on the ship, I don't know. But this 
is a theme that later found its way into a film I wrote, 
Pride of the Marines — the question of the price that you 
pay for a position you take. And I guess that's all I have 
to say about it at the moment. 

GARDNER: It is a theme that reappears not only in your 
fiction or in your screenwriting, but in your life. 
MALTZ : Yes. Yes. As a matter of fact, there is some- 
thing similar, because while I, in the Hollywood Ten case, 
knew the penalty that I would have if we lost the case, 
I didn't know that it was going to involve blacklisting 
and everything that happened to my writing career. So 
that it is somewhat comparable--not, of course, to the 
degree of what this poor man suffered. 
GARDNER: Let me turn off the tape now. 
MALTZ: Yes. 



328 



TAPE NUMBER: IX, SIDE ONE 
SEPTEMBER 16, 1976 

MALTZ: I'd like to bring up a point. I'd like to go into 
a point that I forgot in talking about the Communist party. 
In the New York Times obituary on Dalton Trumbo which 
appeared last week, something was quoted out of his book 
Additional Dialogue . It was the following: "I joined the 
Communist party in 1943 and left it in 1948 on the ground 
that in the future I should be far too busy to attend its 
meetings, which were in any event dull beyond description, 
about as revolutionary in purpose as Wednesday evening 
testimonial services in the Christian Science Church." 
This, says the obituary, he said in 1970. Around 1970, 
around 1972, I think, '71, I listened to an hour's interview 
with him on KCET in which he spoke about political history, 
among other things, and he referred to membership in the 
Communist party as being akin to membership in the Parent- 
Teacher Association. Now, I don't know his purpose in 
saying these things, but they're nonsense. If anyone 
knew Trumbo, he would know that he would not have been a 
member of any organization for five years when its meetings 
were dull beyond description. He just would have left after 
the first meeting or [after] the second; he was completely 
intolerant of dullness. If the organization was no dif- 



329 



ferent from a Parent-Teacher Association, what was he doing 
in it? He had some public relations reason for making these 
statements when he did make them, but a moment's thought 
would reveal that he did not remain in the Communist party 
for some years for nothing. I've seen similar statements 
by other former members of the Communist party, and it's 
in part to correct these self-serving misstatements that 
I have wanted to explain why I joined the Communist party, 
and why I stayed in it, and why I cannot today say that I 
made a mistake in doing so. [tape recorder turned off] 
Now, in chronological terms, I want to discuss the 
Theatre Union production of the play with music. Mother , 
by Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler. And I will mention 
that I've given the Oral History Program an article by 
Lee Baxandall called . . . [tape recorder turned off] . . . 
"Brecht in America, 19 35," in which this production is 
discussed. In previous remarks I made about events in 
the spring of 1935, I said that the Theatre Union had 
authorized one of its playwrights and Executive Board 
member, Paul Peters, to make an adaptation of Mother. 
However, we didn't give this directive without consultation 
with Brecht, who at that time was in Denmark. We had 
previously written to him and gotten his agreement for 
an adaptation. And if we hadn't received his agreement, 
we would have abandoned the project at once. Sometime 



330 



in early summer, Peters finished his adaptation. In order 
to strengthen the play, which was rather fragmentary, he 
had used material from Gorky's novel Mother , upon which the 
play was based. He had turned the fragmentary play into 
one that had a solid structure, one that was warm and that 
had good personal scenes that we felt were missing from 
the Brecht version. We (meaning the Executive Board) were 
delighted with it, and we sent a copy to Brecht. 

Now, since there was no airmail to Europe before the 
end of World War II, it took quite a good deal of time for 
the script to go by boat and then train until it reached 
Brecht — and for his reply to reach us. Presumably, he had 
to have it translated by someone for him because he didn't 
at that time speak English. So that it was the fall and 
we were already casting the actors when the letter came 
from Brecht attacking the adaptation by Paul Peters as a 
violation of the original and refusing to let us go ahead 
with the production. 

This instantly precipitated the Theatre Union into 
a very serious crisis. Since we worked on a shoestring, 
once we set the mechanism of a production going, we had 
to use the money that we received from selling benefits to 
help us open the curtain, lift the curtain on the produc- 
tion. And consequently, by the time Brecht 's letter came 
we had already sold benefit parties, we had already 



331 



promised a play, we had our small staff at work, and if we 
were to call off the production, we would have to refund 
the money, and we would have lost everything that we had 
expended up to that point — something that we could 
scarcely afford to do. 

The decision of the board was to immediately send one 
of its members, Manny Gomez, to Denmark because he could 
speak German, and we wanted him to negotiate with Brecht. 
He left in mid-September and, after some days with Brecht, 
arrived at an agreement which permitted us to go ahead; 
but we would pay for Brecht 's passage and expenses in the 
United States and New York, and he would be at rehearsals. 
And it was agreed between Gomez and Brecht that the Paul 
Peters version should, and would, be modified considerably. 
This was told to us by Gomez when he returned. Brecht 
was still to come, but we, I think, had already begun 
rehearsals, or were just about to begin rehearsals. With 
the exception of myself, the Theatre Union board voted to 
proceed with the production upon the basis of that agree- 
ment between Gomez and Brecht. I voted against it because 
I felt that if we departed from Paul Peters 's adaptation 
and returned, even if only in part, to the Brecht text, 
that we would have a complete failure. 
GARDNER: Why? 
MALTZ: Why? Because I felt his play was inadequate and 



332 



that Peters had made an adequate play of it, a good play 
of it. But if you started to cut down the Peters play, 
you wouldn't have anything to be successful with. 
GARDNER: How do you mean adequate and inadequate? 
MALTZ: How do I mean it? Well, let me say that if we 
take a good Hemingway short story, I could do some cutting 
and some rewriting and omit things here and there, and 
instead of its being a first-rate story it would be a very 
mediocre story. That's the only way I can explain it. For 
instance, many a play producer has received a play and had 
a consultation with the author and said, "You have a good 
idea here, and you have a number of good scenes, but your 
characters aren't well enough developed, and you've missed 
the drama on a number of different occasions. It just isn't 
a whole play here. You've got to go to work on it. You've 
got to do a real rewrite." That's the difference between 
adequate and not adequate. 

GARDNER: Of course, Brecht's comments (maybe I'm jumping 
the gun) and his perspective were that his was a new style 
of play. 

MALTZ: Right. Well, now, let me talk about that in a 
moment, because I will get into it. 
GARDNER: Fine. Fine. 

MALTZ: Brecht arrived in mid-October, after about two 
weeks of rehearsals had gone on, and we had only four. 



333 



Now, Brecht immediately, or quite soon after he arrived, 
handed out to us on the Executive Board, or to people on 
the production committee (as I was), a statement in English, 
perfectly clear, on the type of theater that he was advo- 
cating--which he called the "epic theater." I wish that 
I still had a copy of that statement — I don't — but I 
remember its central principle was that a play should be 
a teaching vehicle, and that in order to teach properly, 
it needed to reduce the amount of audience emotion so that 
the audience could think and learn. Emotion interfered 
with learning. For this reason, for instance, it was his 
insistence that before each scene in a play, there should be 
a movie screen lowered on which the content of the scene to 
come would be stated in a short statement. Because if then 
the audience knew what was going to happen, they would have 
less suspense, and therefore they would pay more attention 
intellectually. 

Now, although I understand in later years, after he 
returned to Germany and established his own theater, he 
began to modify this somewhat, this was his theory at the 
time. I thought then (and I think now) that it was nonsense; 
I think it's psychological nonsense and I think it's dramatic 
nonsense. This doesn't mean that produced in his own theater, 
with his own style, with his own actors acting in the way 
he directed them, that he might not have produced an effec- 



334 



tive theater, or an effective play. But he was advocating 
this as the only way in which theater should be presented. 
And that's why I say it was nonsense. To think that audi- 
ences cannot learn through their feelings and that they 
can only learn through their mind, I think, is psychological 
nonsense. And to feel that you must remove most of the 
suspense from a play, I think, is dramatic nonsense. 

So that what happened then was a terrible clash between 
Brecht and ourselves. To quote from the article by Lee 
Baxandall. ... I wrote the following in a letter to 
Baxandall: 

Being the man he was, Brecht tried to take over 
the direction by badgering Wolfson, the director, 
with constant comments, by running up on stage and 
trying through an interpreter to tell the actors 
how to play their parts, or by shouting out in 
German, in a voice of thunder, 'This is shit!' He 
was a slender, slightly built man, but he had a 
voice that would have humiliated the fight announc- 
er at Madison Square Garden; it blasted out of 
him. Conduct of this sort did not endear him to 
us. We were not only members of a theater trying 
to put on a play, we were individuals who had come 
together in late 19 33 to try and create a theater 
of a particular sort. As unpaid, volunteer mem- 
bers of the Executive Board we had struggled for 
three years to make the Theatre Union a stable 
theater. We had raised money, made hundreds of 
speeches to win public attention and support, sat 
through a thousand hours of meetings, worked with 
playwrights, mounted four plays, and so on. Now 
we had in our midst a screaming banshee who had, 
we felt, sold us out by going back on our original 
agreement about an adaptation and who now, when 
we had achieved a compromise text, would not allow 
rehearsals to proceed without disrupting them. 
The financial lifeline of our theater was so thin 
that one complete failure could wipe the theater 



335 



out ... Of course, we quickly put a stop to 
Brecht's grosser antics by threatening to bar him 
from all rehearsals. He agreed to keep quiet, 
not to go up on stage, not to talk to the director, 
and to limit himself to making suggestions to a 
go-between, Gomez, or calling for a meeting with 
the production committee. I can still hear, after 
forty years, his Prussian drill master's call, 
Sitzung — that is, meeting. We often had several 
a day. With all that was at stake from my point 
of view I came to loathe Brecht as a person. If 
we had met under other circumstances, I might 
have felt differently. 

Now, I want to say that on Brecht's part he was, 

of course, a man with tremendous passion about his work. 

He felt that he had successfully maneuvered us into a 

position where, if he came over here, he would be able to 

win back every word of his original text and get the actors 

to act as he wanted, and so on. Because actually, he had 

directed all of his plays when they were done in Germany, 

or several plays that were done in Germany, and he directed 

later in his own theater. And what we were doing to his 

play was as though we were cutting his own flesh with knives, 

So from his point of view it was horrendous, and from our 

point of view it was horrendous. And as a result, the 

play was very unsuccessful aesthetically. It was not our 

version; it was not his version. It was by far the least 

successful of any play that the Theatre Union had put on, 

and the financial loss that we took from it was a very 

serious one from which we never really recovered. It 

put us so much in debt that from then on in the several 



336 



other plays that we did put on it was a terrible struggle 
to keep our head above water. 

GARDNER: One thing Baxandall seems a little vague on is 
the relationship of the Conununist party to the whole thing. 
He says that Brecht tried to influence the [Theatre] Union 
through the party. 

MALTZ : Yes, well, I'm awfully glad you bring that up. I 
want to say, as an overall matter, that Lee Baxandall, who 
wrote this article, had the opportunity of going to living 
sources. Because all of the principals involved in it 
except Brecht himself were around to be questioned; and 
Brecht, on the other hand, had left textual material which 
could be called upon. In spite of that opportunity, 
people's memories are so affected by the passage of time, 
and by their own point of view, that on a considerable 
number of important matters Baxandall, from my point of 
view, is greatly in error. And so I made written notes 
on not a few of these points in the article. 

On this question of the Communist party, I recently 
listened to a tape of an interview with me by a professor 
James Lyon, who is at work on a book called Brecht in 
America (same title as the Baxandall article) . Lyon quoted 
someone else to me as saying that "Brecht was a one-man 
political party in close coalition with the Communist party." 
And I think that's brilliant, because it was always my 



337 



understanding that he was not a Communist party member. 
As a matter of fact, when he went back to East Germany, 
he retained Swiss citizenship and had all his money in 
Switzerland. Nevertheless he, I believe, collaborated 
with the Communist party of Germany before Hitler, and it's 
Professor Lyon's contention that he remained actually a 
Stalinist in his thinking. 

Now, in this article by Baxandall, to answer your 
question very specifically, he refers to meetings that 
Brecht had with a cultural functionary of the Communist 
party, V.J. Jerome, whom I knew. But I never knew of those 
meetings, and I was fascinated to find that they apparently- 
I don't know whether I found this from Baxandall or Pro- 
fessor Lyon--apparently Jerome and Brecht had a long cor- 
respondence for years thereafter. But the Theatre Union 
was completely independent of any party, as I said when I 
described its founding. There were Communist party members 
on the board, and several (this was when it was first 
founded) Socialist party members there, and known as such. 
The rest of us were not — although later, as I described, 
I myself joined the Communist party. But there was no. . . 
Policy was formed by the Executive Board in everything, 
and there was never any consultation with the Communist 
party, with the Socialist party, in determining board 
decisions. .So it may well be that Brecht had meetings with 



338 



one or another Communist, but that didn't affect any 

decision that we made on Mother. 

GARDNER: Did Jerome talk to the board in any way? 

MALTZ: No. 

GARDNER: Who was Jerome, and what sort of things did 

he do? 

MALTZ: V.J. Jerome was a Communist party functionary, an 

intellectual guy with some cultural background. (As a 

matter of fact, a secret writer of poetry, I believe.) 

He was one of the men who went to jail on the Smith Act, 

and after he came out, he was no longer a functionary. I 

think the party as then constituted could no longer pay a 

salary for him. And the last work he did was to write one 

book that was published, and one that I think remained 

unpublished, about his childhood. They were very sensitive 

vignettes about life in Poland. I wouldn't have thought 

that that kind of thing would come out of him because in my 

knowledge of him he tended to be very stiff and kind of 

a rigid guy. 

But the Socialists on the Theatre Union board, to 
give an example, would have what — how can I say it?-- they 
would have cut their own throats before they would have sat 
down in a meeting with V.J. Jerome to listen to what he had 
to say; they wouldn't have had anything to do with him. 
It would have violated everything in their principles to 



339 



invite a Communist functionary to advise them on what to 

do about Brecht's Mother . So it just wasn't so . . . just 

wasn't so. 

GARDNER: Is there anything about Brecht and Eisler that 

you'd like to say that's not contained in the article or in 

your notes on the article? 

MALTZ: I don't think so. 

GARDNER: Let me ask another question. Did you have any 

contact with him later on? I guess not. I guess you would 

have been in jail during the time. . . . 

MALTZ: No. No. Brecht lived here in. . . . 

GARDNER: . . . in ' 46 to something. . . . 

MALTZ: Brecht and Eisler both lived in California. I don't 

know about Eisler; I think Eisler lived in New York. But 

Bertolt Brecht arrived around 1943, I think, or maybe it was 

'42, as a refugee from Denmark. He was an old friend and 

had collaborated with Lion Feuchtwanger — he was an old friend 

of theirs--collaborated on one play, I believe. And they 

helped sustain him in California. But I disliked him so 

much from the experience in the Theatre Union that I never 

saw him here although I knew he was here, and I knew people 

who went to see him. 

GARDNER: And you did know the Feuchtwangers? 

MALTZ: I didn't then know the Feuchtwangers. I had met 

them once but I didn't know them. I only came to know 



340 



Marta Feuchtwanger after I came to live here in 1962. 
GARDNER: I see. 

MALTZ: And the only time I saw Brecht again after the 
Theatre Union experience was in 1947, when the Hollywood 
Ten, or the Hollywood Nineteen, went to Washington, and 
he was one of the nineteen. And just in a casual fashion 
I shook hands with him in the hotel in Washington, didn't 
have any talk with him, and that was all. 

However, I must say that in later years after he 
established his theater in East Berlin, and I began to read 
appreciative articles by people like Harold Clurman, whose 
judgment I respect very much, I had a very keen desire to 
see his theater in action, even though I didn't understand 
German. When I went to East Germany in 1959 I was quite 
excited about the idea of seeing his theater, although he 
had died, I think, the year before. But alas, his theater 
was in London at the time that I was in East Berlin, and I 
couldn't get to see it. I did walk with a friend in the 
churchyard where he was buried, and that was it. 
GARDNER: Is there anything else about the incident you'd 
like to add? 

MALTZ: No. I don't think of anything else at all excepting 
that it put a terrible stone, a terrible millstone around 
the neck of the Theatre Union. Oh, yes, I want to emphasize 
about the Baxandall article that reading this after reading 



341 



some of the books on the theater of the thirties, I feel 
a very great sense of disquiet about the way history is 
written. I used to think that certain outstanding books-- 
for instance, the book Jefferson and Hamilton by Claude 
Bowers was, I thought, an extraordinary picture of the 
struggle between conservative and liberal forces within 
American society after the revolutionary war until the time 
that Jefferson became president. The work seemed to me to 
be one of great honesty and great verisimilitude because of 
the sources quoted and so on. But when I read the Baxandall 
article with the feeling that he's perfectly honest in what 
he has written, and yet at the same time see all of the 
errors that I believe he has made, I begin to wonder how 
many errors there were in the Bowers book. And the same 
when I think back to the scholarly works of [W.E.B.] Du Bois, 
which I have regarded as so fine, or of the Fleming book. 
The Origins of the Cold War , and I begin to feel that, well, 
the best that we can ever get is a certain percentage of 
truth, and that total truth must elude us in probing into 
the past. [tape recorder turned off] 

I want to add a postscript on the play Mother. It 
only played for thirty-six performances, and we canceled 
the benefits that remained and returned the money. We were 
then in a very, very difficult situation but were able to 
help ourselves out by the fact that we transferred to our 



342 



theater a play that was failing on Broadway. It was called 
Let Freedom Ring , written by Albert Bein. This was a play 
based upon a novel which had to do with a textile strike 
in the South, and although it was not securing adequate 
audiences to continue on Broadway, we felt that it would be 
liked by what we called in a broad fashion "our audience." 
And arrangements were made to bring it into our theater. 
As a result, after it had been ready to close on Broadway 
following twenty-nine performances, it ran for seventy-nine 
in our theater, and it helped us pay the rent and keep our 
staff going while we prepared our next production. 
GARDNER: Do you think it was a mistake, looking back, to 
have produced Mother ? 

MALTZ: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I look back with what I would 
call no pleasure in the fact that I did vote against pro- 
ducing it. We would have been much better off as a theater 
if we had not done it--not just financially but in terms of 
critics and in terms of audience. Because with the humanity 
largely taken out of the play and with its being such a 
mixture aesthetically, such a bad mixture aesthetically, it 
was no good. It was most unfortunate. 

In the year 1936, I continued to write short stories 
and some novelettes, and they began to get publication. I 
had a story published in Scribner 's , another one in New Masses 
GARDNER: Which ones? 



343 



MALTZ: The Scribner's was called "The Game"; the New Masses , 
a story called "Good-by." In the course of once going to 
a meeting on the Dramatists Guild contract matters at the 
home of Elmer Rice, I stepped out of a subway to see some 
cops struggling with a drunken man, and that resulted in a 
short story "Incident on a Street Corner" which was published 
in the New Yorker . (I might add that when I went into Elmer 
Rice's apartment, which was in a residential hotel on 
Broadway in the mid-seventies, as I recall, it was my first 
experience, that I remember, in seeing walls covered with 
art. I had never been in a home of that sort in my life, 
that I can recall, and he had a collection of what I can 
now recall were quite celebrated names of modernists, and I 
just never knew of that phenomenon.) 

At that time also there began for me the reprinting 
of some of my short stories: for instance, earlier in 1936 
"Man on a Road" was reprinted in The Best Short Stories of 
that year and in Scholastic magazine. I mentioned that 
because the reprinting of my short stories, which continued 
throughout the thirties and forties, stopped dead once the 
Hollywood Ten case began. 

In March of that year, the Theatre Union opened what I 
regarded as a very interesting play. Bitter Stream , which 
was a dramatization by one of our board members, Victor 
Wolfson, who had directed Mother, of a novel by the Italian 



344 



author [Ignazio] Silone, called Fontamara, an excellent 
novel. And by the way, this is an interesting little foot- 
note to the political nature of the Theatre Union. Silone 
had been a leading Italian Communist who had broken with 
the Communist movement and was now anti-Communist, and we 
were doing his book. Now obviously, if we had been an arm, 
the theater arm, of the Communist party, we wouldn't have 
done such a production. The play was only moderately suc- 
cessful, however, and it ran for . . .I'm trying to see 
here ... it didn't have too long a run, probably some 
seventy performances or so, which means about nine weeks. 
A play like that is not a failure, but it certainly isn't a 
real success, and for the Theatre Union it meant that our 
debt constantly rose. I think that probably about the time 
Bitter Stream closed we must have had a total indebtedness 
of perhaps about $10,000, which for us was a great deal of 
money. This meant, let's say, certain printing bills which 
we had not paid--we were paying on the bills but we were not 
clearing them up, and certain other bills like that. Perhaps 
we were a little behind in our rent, I don't know. 

Around this time we learned to our great dismay that 
we were no longer going to be able to continue in the Civic 
Repertory Theatre because the bank that owned the theater 
had decided that it could make more money by having a parking 
lot; they were going to tear down the theater. 



345 



And in a little footnote I might mention that Victor 
Wolfson and I went down to see a young man in a bank who had 
an executive position, and we implored him to let us continue 
to stay there. We tried to persuade him by telling him the 
kind of theater we were, that we who were on the Executive 
Board were working without any money. He just stared at us 
as though we had come from a foreign planet and kept asking, 
"But why are you working if you are not paid?" And we tried 
to convey the fact that we were doing something that we 
considered important and that we were willing to do it 
without remuneration, but he couldn't comprehend it, just 
couldn't comprehend it. It did no good in getting the bank 
to change anything, so we began to look for another theater 
into which we could go. Because by that time, probably, I 
believe we had already read and decided upon, or were in the 
process of deciding upon, our next play, and had decided on 
a play Marching Song by John Howard Lawson . 

That summer Margaret Larkin and I spent in Westport, 
Connecticut, and moved in together for the first time. I 
spent most of the summer writing, excepting for certain 
Theatre Union work, and perhaps some other things that I no 
longer recall, and in the fall we settled on West Twentieth 
Street in New York, between Eighth and Ninth avenues. It 
was a small apartment. I guess it had three rooms and a 
kitchen so that it provided working space for both of us. 



346 



since she needed working space at home as well as I. But 

I mention the area because that will come in later in reference 

to the struggle I became involved in against Coughlinism. 

Now, since it was the year 1936 I think it's very relevant 

to pause to give some of the political background at that 

time . 

GARDNER: Before you do, I'm going to turn over my tape, and 

then we can pick it up without interrupting you. 

MALTZ: All right. Fine. 



347 



TAPE NUMBER: IX, SIDE TWO 
SEPTEMBER 15, 1978 

GARDNER: You were about to set the political background 
of the year. 

MALTZ: Yes, of the year 1936. In March 1936 Hitler occu- 
pied the Rhineland in violation of the Treaty of Versailles 
England and France made no move about this, and Hitler 
promptly fortified the frontier with France and Belgium. 
I want to read now from The Cold War and Its Origins , by 
Fleming, page 62: 

French surrender to this militarization of 
the Rhineland opened wide the fascist assault on 
France. Having locked his own front door. Hitler, 
along with Mussolini, now boldly took possession 
of France's back door and in the process killed 
what was left of French spirit. 

Nor was any time lost. In July 1936 a 
Rightist revolt was begun against the Popular Front 
Government of the Spanish Republic. The rebellion 
was planned in Berlin and Rome as well as in Spain, 
and was instantly given military support by both 
Germany and Italy. 

This move into Spain struck straight at the 
very life of France and equally directly at the 
imperial interests of both Britain and France. Axis 
control of Spain threatened Britain's "life line" 
through the Mediterranean as sharply as it could 
be done. Spain in the Axis camp also put France 
in mortal peril of having her communications with 
her African colonies cut, at the same time that 
she was surrounded by fascist states on all sides. 

In this situation every instinct of self- 
preservation called for a firm British-French union 
to defeat this dangerous thrust to their very exis- 
tence. For France especially the issue was mortal. 
Yet outwardly it was France in the person of Leon 
Blum, Socialist Premier of a Popular Front cabinet, 
which took the first step toward appeasing the Axis 



348 



with non-intervention. . . ! 

Britain at once insisted that the Non-inter- 
vention CoiTvmittee meet in London instead of Geneva. 
Some twenty-seven European governments were invited 
to join, and did so. This amounted to organizing a 
new ad hoc League of Nations under British control. 
The committee adopted an attitude of trying to pre- 
vent any military help from reaching either side-- 
a completely new departure in international law and 
usage. The Spanish Government was a democratic one, 
legally elected by the whole Spanish people. By 
all past precedent it had the right to buy arms for 
its defense anywhere. It would be the insurgents 
who would have all the difficulties and be dis- 
criminated against, but this traditional situation 
was completely reversed. The Government was reduced 
to the same level as the rebels. Its fight for sur- 
vival against its own rebels, plus Italy and Germany, 
was placed on the same moral basis as that of the 
rebels and the foreign governments intervening. 

Embargoes on arms were laid against both 
sides. The democracies, with spasmodic exceptions 
in France, obeyed the rules. The Axis didn't. 
Italy sent everything she had, including troops 
totaling upwards of 100,000 men. . . . 

Germany sent technicians, equipment of every 
kind, and troops. The Germans used the Spanish 
Republicans as guinea pigs upon which to test all 
of the new arms they were preparing to use on Europe. 
The bombing of Guernica, on April 26, 19 37, was the 
classic example of this policy. Guernica was a 
town of several thousand people in the Basque country. 
It was not on any military front, but it was a sacred 
place to the Basque people. Its destruction would 
be a heavy moral blow to them, so the German avia- 
tors came on market day, when the town was crowded 
with peasants and ruthlessly obliterated the whole 
place. Then as the people fled out on a hub of 
roads they machine-gunned and bombed the roads. . . . 

On five separate occasions, covering a period 
of two years, the Spanish Government appealed to the 
League of Nations for help against the organized 
aggression of the Axis, but always in vain. . . . 
Only Soviet Russia spoke out plainly and strongly 
in Spain's behalf. 

The Spanish Government first called the League's 
attention to the international war which was raging 
in Spain on September 25, 19 36. The warning was 
carefully ignored. Another appeal, when full docu- 



349 



mentary proof of Axis intervention was available, 
led only to a resolution hoping that "Non-Inter- 
vention" would be made stronger. [sound inter- 
f erence--tape recorder turned off] 

In May 1937 Spain appealed again to the 
League of Nations, whose Covenant was stern about 
intervention in any state's domestic affairs, as 
well as definite on what to do about international 
aggression. On May 28 Litvinov spoke, citing the 
indisputable evidence presented of armed interven- 
tion, reminding the Council that the Spanish 
Government would have coped with the rebellion 
long ago, if left alone, and warning that the 
safety of every European state was at stake. 

That's the end of the quotation from the Fleming book. 

For myself, the importance of reading from Fleming 

this way was that it was events like this that cemented my 

loyalty to the Communist party and the world communist 

movement, and my support of what I considered to be the 

principled position of the Soviet Union. It was Russian aid 

to the Spanish republic, at great cost to itself because its 

arms were not being paid for, and not a few of its ships 

bearing arms were sunk by German and Italian submarines on 

their way to Spain, that was keeping the republic alive. 

It was the communist movement of the world that organized 

the International Brigades of volunteers who came from a 

great many countries in support of the republic, 

numbered some 35,000 men, much more than half of whom died 

there. Not all of them, of course, were Communists; many 

were non-Communist antifascists. My sense of patriotism, 

of American patriotism, was seriously wounded by the 



350 



Roosevelt policy of acquiescing in nonintervention, which 
was such a grisly farce, and refusing to sell arms for cash 
to the republic. Now, this, of course, Roosevelt did 
because of the Catholic vote in the United States. The 
Catholic Church had taken a very strong pro-Franco stand 
even though there were many individual priests on the side 
of the republic; but with his awareness of the Catholic 
vote, this is what Roosevelt did. However, all of this, 
in the view of the communist world movement, was contributing 
to the advent of inevitable war later on, and this was 
proved to be absolutely true. These events also helped 
explain why in 1940 the Soviet Union entered into a non- 
aggression pact with Nazi Germany, and I will be talking 
of that when I come to that year in my narrative. That's it. 



351 



SECOND PART (September 16, 1978) 

GARDNER: When we left off we were talking about the impact 
of the Spanish civil war on not only yourself but a genera- 
tion . 

MALTZ: Yes, I think that this generation of Americans 
born since World War II can understand that impact best by 
recalling its own reaction to the war in Vietnam. Certainly 
the intensity of our feelings about the Spanish civil war 
was the same. But in addition there was an absolutely 
extraordinary phenomenon in that war which, to my best 
knowledge, has had no precedent in the world: some 40,000 
foreigners volunteered to fight on behalf of the Loyalist 
cause in Spain. They became the International Brigades. 

These men came from France, from England, from 
Yugoslavia, Poland, Belgium, and Czechoslovakia. They came 
from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Holland, and many 
other countries; among them, and among the best of all 
fighters, were German and Italian refugees from fascism 
who were in exile in different countries. Often it required 
tremendous persistence on their part to get into Spain; in 
almost every case they had to climb the Pyrenees from the 
French side of the border and evade customs agents in order 
to be able to do it. And of their number, half died. In 
terms of the casualty lists of modern armies, this is an 



352 



enormous percentage; and of the rest, most were wounded once, 
twice, and three times. This is the real measure of what 
that civil war meant to us. 

GARDNER: Did you have any close associates who were. . . ? 
MALTZ: Oh, yes. I had friends who went and died there, 
and friends who went and came back. And this was a very 
intimate thing. Those who didn't go did everything we could 
to organize support for the Loyalists. I think I may have 
mentioned in the discussion before that this was one of the 
terrible blots on American history, that our government did 
nothing, and by doing nothing, indirectly was lending its 
support to the fascist countries. However, I'll now go on 
to something else. 

In discussing Mother , I discovered that I omitted a 
physical description of Brecht. He's a man about five-feet- 
six-inches tall, very slender. He was largely bald except 
for short, stiff, black hair around the sides and back of 
his head. He had blue eyes behind wire eyeglasses that had 
been made centuries ago. They were an antique from, I think, 
the Middle Ages, and he was extremely proud of them. The 
first time I met him he saw me looking at them. He took 
them off to show me what they were and to tell me. He 
always was dressed like a workingman, wearing a black leather 
jacket and no tie. (And that always amused me a little bit 
because at least in the United States and, I should imagine. 



353 



in Germany as well, when a workingman was ready to go some- 
where on Sunday, his day off, he put on his best suit of 
clothes, and he indeed wore a tie.) Joe Losey said about 
Brecht in print that "he ate little, drank little and 
fornicated a lot." 

I don't know whether I mentioned that it was almost 
intolerable for me to sit next to him in the theater. Did 
I mention this? Did I mention the fact that Marta 
Feuchtwanger told me he had an organic condition of which 
he had no control? Ah, maybe I learned it only since. I 
always thought he simply was one of those people who do not 
wash. But this is not true. Apparently he was afflicted 
with a condition in which a very distressing odor came from 
his feet, and he had no control over that. I have heard of 
this before, and this is what he had, so it was not his 
fault in any way. 

Now, on the previous tape I mentioned writing several 
novelettes during the summer in Westport in 19 36, but I 
also wrote a number of short stories which I ' 11 mention 
when I come to their publication the following year. But it 
is germane to say now that none of this writing came easy 
to me: writing a story was a constant wrestling match to 
find the means of expressing myself, of handling the materials, 
of finding my style, and of studying other writers. I also 
rewrote a great deal. Now, I'm sure that 9 5 percent or more 



354 



of all writers go through the same process, and I merely 
make mention of it so that I don't pass lightly over the 
fact of saying, "Well, I wrote such and such." That phrase 
represents many hours of intense work. 

GARDNER: What was the procedure you followed? Did you 
write a number of pages, then go back and rewrite them? 
Did you write a page at a time and work on it? 
MALTZ: My method usually was to try and get each page 
right as I went along. Now, that might mean there was no 
one pattern to it. It might mean that I would write a 
paragraph and make some changes, or perhaps start over and 
rewrite it again and constantly rewrite. Perhaps by the end 
of one work session, which might have been anywhere from 
two to five hours, I might have several pages. Well, the 
next day I might change them all again and constantly rewrite, 
and I might be on those several pages for one week; or it 
might come more rapidly than that. I might have a story 
finished within one week and then find that I made more 
changes. But it was always a process of writing and re- 
writing, and I was never one of those few people, few 
writers (and there are some) , who are able to write and don't 
have to rewrite at all. They are very rare. 

GARDNER: Did you generally stick to one project at a time? 
I mean if you were in the middle of a short story and thought 
of something that was exceptionally interesting, did you 



355 



remain with the first short story? 

MALTZ: Yes, usually I would just write down the new idea. 
I was constantly getting ideas, whether they were good or 
not, I would say for everything I have written and pub- 
lished, I probably had at least a hundred other ideas. Now, 
as I say, maybe they weren't good, but some of them probably 
would have been. 

GARDNER: That's an awesome number. 

MALTZ: Well, but the number is correct. When I say a 
hundred, that's true. I just put them into files, and I 
have files and files and files; I've never thrown them 
away, and they'll just go into the garbage somewhere, some- 
time, I don't know, into a university, something or other, 
[laughter] But that has happened. Now, I wonder if I. . . . 
This might be a moment to speak of-- to your recollection, have 
I spoken of the myth of the lonely writer? 

GARDNER: I couldn't say. It's probably safer to say no so 
that you'll speak about it. 

MALTZ: Yes, and then we can cut it out. I don't know how 
this myth--and there are a lot of myths in the world that 
people continue--I don't know how the myth of the lonely 
writer has crept up, but it's inevitable that anyone reading 
writers talking about their own work will hear them say, "Oh, 
writing is such a lonely business." Now, this self-serving 
glorification is nonsense from several points of view. In 



356 



the first place, there are an enormous amount of professions 
or types of work in which people are alone. A house painter 
painting rooms is alone, usually alone all day, painting. 
A physicist working with a pencil and paper on mathematical 
problems is alone. A forest ranger looking for forest fires 
is alone. A street sweeper is alone. I don't think I really 
have to go down and mention more types of work than that 
for people to recognize that this is so--that there are a 
great many such things. And secondly, if you are absorbed 
very much in the work you are doing, time goes rapidly. 
You don't feel you're alone; you're fully preoccupied. If 
you're having a nice swim, you don't say, "Oh, what a lonely 
thing it is to be swimming." You don't have to swim hand 
in hand with somebody to enjoy swimming, and, if anything, 
you don't want anyone intruding when you're doing something 
that you are concerned about. Even if you are reading, you 
read by yourself; you don't want someone popping his head in 
every five minutes and saying, "Do you feel lonely?" You 
don't feel lonely. 

There is perhaps one aspect in which writing differs 
from most professions and that is in the length of time that 
it sometimes takes to complete a work. Sometimes a novel 
can take, as it did, say, with Flaubert (although that's 
unusual) , seven years for the completion of Madame Bovary . 
And that's a long time to see the completion of a piece of 



357 



work. Even if it is only one year, it is a considerable 
piece of time. But, of course, scientists work at a research 
problem for five, ten, fifteen, and twenty years. A 
historian will work years on a piece of work, and so will 
others. So even though that makes it different in kind from, 
let's say, the fire watcher who may see a fire once a week, 
or the street sweeper who goes home at the end of the day 
and has his work finished, nevertheless it doesn't mean that 
the writer has any reason to stand up on a platform and say, 
"Oh, what a lonely, harsh life I have." And I just want to 
kill that particular myth. 

There are other myths, by the way which. . . . 
I went out to the mine fields, hearing first that miners — 
(maybe I ' 11 put this in also) --were all pale because they 
didn't see the sun. Well, miners aren't pale, because if 
they're well fed they have color in their cheeks. And two, 
I had read that miners have little pock marks on their 
faces from the dynamite that they use in blasting. When I 
asked one of the miners about that, he said, "Hell, if you 
got close enough to dynamite to get pock marks on your face, 
it would blow your head off!" So those two myths went by 
the board. Then most recently, just this past year, I read 
an article in the New Yorker about a study of men in prison 
which spoke of men with prison pallor. Well, that's nonsense 
too: if they have an adequate diet, then they don't have 



358 



any pallor just because they are in cells. 

GARDNER: Perhaps they don't have adequate diet. 

MALTZ: Well, that could be, that could be. But it would 

only be from diet. But I don't think the diet is that 

bad, actually — it's not enjoyable, but I don't think it's 

that bad. However, I'll go on to another point. 

I haven't yet mentioned that in mid-1935 I made a 
connection with an agent, literary agent, to represent roe, 
who was certainly one of the best literary agents in New 
York. He was Maxim Lieber who represented, among other 
authors, Gorky (until his death), Erskine Caldwell, John 
Cheever--do I need to spell some of these names?--Anna 
Seghers, and a host of fine writers. Unlike many another 
agent, Lieber ran a one-man operation: he had no readers 
but read everything himself, and was willing to sit and 
make comments about a piece of writing, and try and work with 
an author to improve it. As time passed, our relationship 
became one of friendship that has endured until today 
(although he gave up the agency business in 19 52 for reasons 
that I will go into when I come to that time) . 

A point I want to raise is to what extent was I, as 
a writer, by this time a member of the Communist party, 
subject to the discipline of the Communist party in relation- 
ship to my writing. It is a common assumption everywhere 
that writers who were members of the Communist party were 



359 



subject to discipline in reference to their writing. Nov/, 
I'm going to exclude from my comments at this time the 
specific "Maltz controversy" that occurred in 1946 and 
which was dealing with what I call "ideology," and I will 
discuss it when I come up to that year. 

GARDNER: Well, it's much later. I don't think it really 
has to do with discipline on a creative writer so much as 
discipline within the media. 

MALTZ: It was a question of ideology, and I will come to 
it and discuss that fully. But in terms of my selection of 
material to write, let's say, as a play, a story, or a novel, 
there was absolutely no discipline ever exerted, or ever 
attempted, in reference to myself and, so far as I know, in 
reference to any other member of the Communist party who 
was a writer. Now, the reason why I think a confusion 
exists, and a wrong assumption, is that in the Soviet Union 
discipline is very definitely exerted upon writers. You 
have a closed situation in the Soviet Union where, number 
one, a writer in order to publish must be a member of the 
Writers Union; secondly, in order for anything to be pub- 
lished, it must pass a government censor. Now, if then a 
writer submits a book to a publisher or to a magazine and 
the censors say that it cannot be published the way it is, 
then he must either change his work, as frequently he does, 
or he must withdraw it and put it into a desk drawer. These 



360 



are the only two alternatives he has. So he is very definitely 
subject to censorship. Not only that but as we know in 
recent years, if he persists in any way and tries to publish 
it himself by the self-publishing method of circulating 
typewritten copies, then he can be expelled from the Writers 
Union altogether and be completely blacklisted so far as 
publication is concerned. 

But nothing like that existed in the United States. 
The Communist party here had no such control over writers 
and never tried to exert such control because it would have 
been futile. I have no question but that in a socialist 
America it probably would have, at least the Communist party 
would have because it followed in the footsteps of the 
Soviet Communist party. 

GARDNER: There is no instance in which a writer might have 
been asked to leave the party, say, because of something 
written? Let's continue to deal with this pre-1940 period. 
MALTZ : Yes, yes, I want to go into that. Now, I am sure 
that there may have been instances in which a writer who was 
a member of the Communist party-- I don't know of these 
instances, but I'm sure a writer who was a member of the 
Communist party, let's say, submitted a creative piece of 
work to the New Masses for publication. Let's say it was a 
story and let's say it expressed ideas that the editors of 
the New Masses felt were antiblack, anti-Negro. I'm sure 



361 



they would have called in the author and talked with him 
about it. Now, if the author persisted in that position 
they would have said, "Well, we won't publish it." But if 
in addition the author was a member of the Communist party, 
I'm sure they would have reported the fact to the party, and 
then it would have been a matter of discussion in his group 
in the party. I'm sure that if he had persisted in saying, 
"This is right and I'm going to publish it elsewhere," and 
did publish it elsewhere, and it was an antiblack short 
story, that he would have been expelled from the Communist 
party. That's how that would have happened. 
GARDNER: And you know of no instances of this? 
MALTZ : I don't remember any instance where that happened. 
I remember a different kind of instance. 

A well-known communist intellectual, Joseph Freeman, 
published a book called American Testament , an autobio- 
graphical work; he was then only in his thirties, but he did 
it as an autobiographical work. I liked the book. But about 
a year or so after it was published, there was a very severe 
and savage criticism of it in a Soviet newspaper, and the 
criticism of it was translated and reproduced over here, I 
believe, or summed up over here. To my best knowledge he 
was not expelled from the party because of that, but he 
dropped out of the party. Because I later talked with Mike 
Gold about it — Mike Gold had been a friend of his — and I 



362 



asked him whether he had been dropped from the party, and 
he said in effect, "Certainly not. He was given the oppor- 
tunity to discuss this review on a platform with me, and he 
just wouldn't come. His feelings were hurt, and he dropped 
out of the party." 

Now, however, I did have experiences like the following. 
When I was researching my first novel in Detroit during the 
sit-down strikes, I witnessed something that I wanted to 
use in my novel. In a small plant (I was at the front gate) 
there were workers sitting down inside, and I saw a black 
striker expose another worker, another member of the plant 
who was a black and who had not been sitting down, because 
he said he knew that that black man had been going around to 
the homes of other black workers in the plant telling the 
wives that their husbands were screwing women in the plant 
(because there were women sitting down in the plant too) , 
and that they were drinking; and they were trying to get 
their wives to come, to say to their husbands, "You got to 
get out of the plant." Now, he was doing this obviously 
for the company. He was a company agent. And I said, 
"That's great, I'm going to use this in some way in my novel." 
I happened to mention this incident to a Communist party 
organizer in Detroit whom I knew, and he said, "Oh, you 
shouldn't do that. You shouldn't have a black stool pigeon." 
And I said, "He is a stool pigeon. He was a stool pigeon." 



363 



And he said, "Yeah, but you shouldn't do that." And I 
went and did it. That was his opinion. But that's just 
the way it was. I went and did it. And there was never 
any request that anybody should discuss the idea for a piece 
of material with any Communist, or a Communist functionary; 
you just wrote the way anybody else wrote. 

However, when I came out to Los Angeles and into the 
film industry, I discovered that in the Communist party here, 
the Hollywood Communist party, there was such respect for 
John Howard Lawson that a tendency had grown up for individ- 
ual writers who, let's say, wanted to write a piece of fiction 
to bring a manuscript to Lawson and ask him if he would read 
it. Now, Lawson was very generous with his time (I think 
too generous for his own good and for the good of the people 
he was trying to help) , and he would take on the reading of 
anything--which meant, I'm sure, that in many cases he read 
it much too hastily and without proper thought. But he 
encouraged this; he encouraged people to bring him their 
manuscripts. So as a result, by the time I arrived this 
had grown into not only something that you did because he 
might be helpful--and there were many who said, "My goodness, 
he helped me so much, I'm so grateful to him, he set me 
straight"--but it became a situation, it was a situation when 
I came out here, where one really ought to show a manuscript 
to Lawson or discuss an idea with Lawson. And that was 



364 



turning a helpful thing into something which was its 
opposite. That was very bad. 

Now, I never submitted an idea with Lawson, I never 
discussed with him anything I wanted to do, but I know 
that others did--others who surprised me. And I have 
learned that a number of people who intended to write books 
didn't write them because they discussed them with Lawson 
and he said, "Oh, I don't think that's a useful kind of 
thing to write at this time," or, "I don't think that's a 
subject you ought to go into. Why don't you take a subject 
like this?" and they dropped their projects. 
GARDNER: Could you give any examples without getting 
sticky? 

MALTZ: Without what? 
GARDNER: Getting sticky. 

MALTZ: Yes. I know that Guy Endore, who was a fine writer 
in his own right and an extremely independent man, dropped 
a book project that he had. I didn't know it at the time — 
I learned of this only recently from a mutual friend--and 
it astonished me that he would do that. I don't think of 
any other names at the moment. I do want to go back, how- 
ever, to two other subjects, two other examples of so-called 
censorship . 

Budd Schulberg published What Makes Sammy Run when I 
was still living in New York. I believe it came out around 
the spring of 1941. That's my impression. I liked the book 



365 



and I wrote a review of it for a magazine for which I was 
one of the editors, and I praised it. I think I did. Yes. 
But I know I liked it and that I appeared somewhere in print 
praising it. But apparently out here Schulberg gave the 
manuscript to Lawson and, I think, a few others, and they 
didn't like the book. The issue was really that he was 
presenting a central character, who was Jewish, as an intense 
opportunist. Now, for reasons I will explain in a moment, 
I ran into something like that myself in a piece of writing 
earlier. But all that was occurring there was that Schulberg 
voluntarily, because he didn't have to, gave his manuscript 
to some others to read, and they said they didn't like it, 
and they thought it was anti-Semitic, let's say. Well, 
Schulberg went ahead and published it. That, to me, is not 
an example of censorship. But Schulberg later, in appearing 
before the Un-American Activities Committee, used that as a 
reason why he had left the Communist party — because of the 
attempted censorship. And that's phony in my opinion. 
Edward Dmytryk did a similar thing on a film project (and I 
don't want to spend the time to go into it) , but it was a 
similar question of discussion where he went ahead and made 
the film he wanted anyway, but people were discussing it. 

Now, to me, let's say if Schulberg had chosen to 
revise his book, or even not to publish it, that would have 
been a case of self-discipline. Let me give two examples 



366 



of this. I have one unpublished novel--the last novel I 
wrote. It is the only novel I've ever written--the only 
story I've ever written — that I've submitted that has not 
been published. It is a dramatization of the Soviet use 
of psychiatric coercion to curb dissidents and to intimi- 
date them. Without going into the reasons why it wasn't 
published, it occurred to me at a certain point some years 
after it had been just lying in a file that I might submit 
it to TV, and so I took it out and read it again. Now, I 
was very concerned in writing the book to strike a balance. 
This misuse of psychiatry is horrible, but it doesn't mean 
that all of Soviet society is a psychiatric hospital. The 
Soviet leadership over the years has done things that have 
been of benefit for the Russian people. The Russians live 
a hell of a lot better now than they did under the czars. 
And, to me, not to strike a balance would have been false. 
But when I looked over my manuscript again, I realized that 
in TV that balance would not have been struck; they would 
have just concentrated upon one thing, which was the misuse 
of psychiatry, and what would have come out would have been 
a complete distortion of my novel. And so I never submitted 
it. Now, this is between my conscience and me. I'm not a 
member of any party, therefore there's no party censorship 
on the part of anybody. But back around in the year 19 35. . 



367 



TAPE NUMBER: X, SIDE ONE 
SEPTEMBER 15, 1978 

GARDNER: Back in 19 35. . . . 

MALTZ: Yes, back in 1935 I had an experience of what I would 
call "self-discipline." I was not yet a member of the 
Communist party, but I might have been because I joined just 
a few months later, as I recall. I had written a story 
called "The Bluegrass Jew." My agent had submitted it and 
it had been bought by the American Mercury . But after the 
magazine bought it, the editor called up my agent and said, 
"Don't you think it is a touch anti-Semitic?" My agent told 
me that and I immediately said, "Well, I've got to investigate 
this by letting others read it." Now, the story was based 
upon my meeting a man at college who was in graduate school, 
who came from the bluegrass country of West Virginia and who, 
on the one hand, had adopted all of the most, to me, degraded 
and vicious antiblack attitudes of his worst white neighbors 
and, on the other hand, spoke proudly of his black mammy who 
used to slap him across the face if he came in drunk. At 
the same time that he boasted that his family had lived in 
West Virginia for 100 years and he had forebears who had 
fought in the Civil War on the Confederate side, he told me 
in a whisper that his father was not able to join the country 
club, and he couldn't work in the local bank, because he was 



368 



a Jew. And he went on to say that he was a white Jew, however, 
and he was not one of those goddamn Eastside New York Jews. 
I did this story to present this stupid guy who spouted 
prejudice from every orifice constantly and at the same time 
felt that he was being discriminated against. 

I remember that at a rehearsal of a play that was going 
on I gave it to about, oh, half a dozen or more of the 
Executive Board, or whoever was around in the theater--! 
don't remember v/ho the individuals were. And all of them 
agreed, with no exceptions, that it seemed to them to be 
anti-Semitic. Now, I'm convinced now that it wasn't anti- 
Semitic, but we were then in a situation, of course, when 
fascism had taken power in Germany, and anti-Semitic movements 
were rising on all sides in the United States, and therefore 
it was an extremely touchy subject. And so I voluntarily 
withdrew the story from the magazine, and it has never been 
published. I just found it the other day in my file and 
reread it, and I think it is a good story. I'm sorry. 
GARDNER: Do you think it is anti-Semitic? 

MALTZ: No, I don't think it is anti-Semitic; it's a true 
portrait. Everybody knows that there are prejudiced people, 
no matter who they are--as any intelligent person knows--and 
I think I should have published it then and argued the 
question with those who wanted to argue it. But that is an 
example of self-censorship. And that goes on all the time 



369 



because that's between a writer's conscience and what he 
does. I'm sure that if a given writer today were to give 
a manuscript to a friend of his who was a woman, and the 
woman said, "I like your novel, but don't you think this 
portrait is pretty male chauvinist in this instance?" If 
the writer were sensitive to the question, he'd say, "Gee, 
I think you're right. I'll make a change." Because I don't 
want to be a male chauvinist, and I think it's horrid, I 
don't agree with it, and so on. Now, have I covered this 
subject? Do you have any questions on it? 

GARDNER: No. No. I think those that I've asked, I think, 
covered what my questions were. 

MALTZ: Good. At this time in my life, perhaps early '36, 
I began something that I've continued at different times 
throughout my life, and that is readings in American history, 
which I had not done in college where I had concentrated 
so completely on study of philosophy. I began with the 
period of the American Revolution and with a very notable 
book which I find just as good today as when I read it, oh, 
forty years ago, and that's Jefferson and Hamilton by Claude 
Bowers. You know the book? Yes, marvelous book, I think. 
And I went on to read other works about the period, and I got 
the idea for a novel that would be based on the movement 
organized by Jefferson against the Alien and Sedition Acts 
and against the presidency of John Adams. I made notes for 



370 



the novel, which was going to have the title of The Tinker 
and be about a man who traveled from town to town; but like 
many another project, it fell by the wayside. I also did 
some intensive reading in the Know-Nothing movement and the 
American party, and the persecution of Catholics in the 
United States that occurred during the 1840s, 1850s, and 
1870s, and I had a title for that called The Beautiful Maria , 
based upon an actual person: a low-IQ woman who had been 
in a nunnery for some years and then had come out, and who 
was exhibited around the country as an example of how women 
were mistreated, I guess, within the Catholic establishment. 
She was a beautiful woman and made a useful appearance for 
demagogues who were arousing anti-Catholic hatred. I never 
wrote that novel either, but my knowledge of that came in 
very usefully when Adrian Scott was preparing the film 
Crossfire , and when I come up to that I'll discuss it. 

I'd like now to go to certain political events that 
occurred in 1934 and 1936, 1937, in the Soviet Union and 
that are summed up by the general term, the "Moscow trials . " 
Because, like Spain, like the civil war in Spain, the Moscow 
trials had tremendous reverberations in the United States 
and in the world and were something that commanded all of my 
attention and that shook me up, I'm reminded of something 
interesting. Certainly a monumental event in 1870 in France 
was the siege of Paris by the German army and, at the same 



371 



time, the commune of the Communists who defended Paris and 
led the people for a short period. Victor Hugo was in Paris 
at that time, having been in exile for many years before, 
and was close to all of the events. But Emile Zola--who was 
also in Paris at that time and who later was to be so 
involved in the Dreyfus case--had no interest whatsoever in 
what was going on and was annoyed because the cannon fire 
was disturbing him at his writing. So people react in very 
different ways to the events of history, and I reacted with 
tremendous intensity and concern to the Moscow trials . 

I mention them here because I was among the many millions 
who accepted the Moscow version of those trials, and I now 
believe that version to have been completely false. And so 
the question of our blindness seems to me to require analysis. 
Briefly, in December 1934 one of the top Soviet leaders, 
[Sergei Mironovich] Kirov, was shot in the back and killed. 
There is reason now to believe that the assassination may 
have been ordered by Stalin. (In terms of material evidence 
on this, I recommend what I consider to be a magnificent 
work of history, Let History Judge by Roy Medvedev. This 
is the only history of the Stalinist period written by a 
Russian who remains in Russia.) In January 1935 a group of 
leading Communists, men who at times had opposed Stalin's 
policies, were put on trial for responsibility in the assas- 
sination; among them were Zinoviev and Kamenev. They denied 



372 



their guilt and were given sentences of five and ten years. 
During 1935 and the first half of 1936 many Soviet citizens 
were arrested and shot or sent to labor camps. In August 
'36, Zinoviev and Kamenev and others were put on trial again, 
with the reporters of the world allowed to be in attendance. 
This time they confessed that they had caused the murder of 
Kirov and had planned to kill Stalin, Molotov, and other 
leaders, and that they wanted to restore capitalism in the 
Soviet Union, that they had connections with foreign govern- 
ments. Specific useful reference here is page 169 of Let 
History Judge . 

Now, in the United States there was a tremendous amount 
of attention that was given to this. I and others read about 
it and talked about it incessantly. Not without agitation, 
not without pause, I and others accepted the Moscow version 
and these were the reasons. I said to myself that if I was 
on trial and knew I was going to be shot (and these men 
had to know they were going to be shot after what they 
confessed), I would not confess falsely. All I would have 
left would be my honor, and I would proclaim my innocence 
and say, "All right, shoot me if you wish, but I am innocent." 
And so I asked, why didn't the defendants do this? Secondly, 
there had been turncoats in many a revolution, including our 
own. Benedict Arnold was one of the leading generals in the 
United States. He was in charge of the fort at West Point. 



373 



If he could turn against the United States in the way he 

did, accept money from the British, prepare to turn over a 

fort to the British, why couldn't this happen with some of 

the Soviet leaders? Third, the alternative to believing 

the confessions was to believe that these men were framed 

by Stalin and the other government leaders. And that seemed 

to me to be impossible. Because, I said, why should old 

comrades frame one another? I wouldn't frame any member 

of the Communist party that I knew, and I wouldn't believe 

that they would frame me. We weren't in this for any narrow 

or selfish purpose. That was naive on my part because I had 

no comprehension, in my young idealism, of the lust for power 

that can arise among people. And finally, as I mentioned 

earlier in this narrative . . . 

GARDNER: Will you respond to those? 

I4ALTZ : Will I comment upon them? 

GARDNER: What I'm curious about . . . 

MALTZ: Please interrupt me. 

GARDNER: I wanted to wait until you were done with the 

series, with that series. 

MALTZ: I have, finally; I have something to say finally. 

GARDNER: Well, since you've put the page down there, let 

me ask--it's a little easier than coming back--what now is 

your reasoning on the confessions? 

MALTZ: Let me come back. I will come back. 



374 



GARDNER: I just wanted to make sure. 

MALTZ: Finally, as I mentioned earlier in this narrative, 
I, like millions of other Communists, had been conditioned 
by the overwhelming amount of lying and anti-Soviet propa- 
ganda to disregard all negative comments about the Soviet 
Union. Nevertheless, from where I sit now, these reasons, 
however weighty, don't adequately explain our acceptance of 
those trials whole hog. Because during these trials, and 
afterwards, there were very searching analyses of them in the 
press and especially in magazines, especially for me in 
magazines like the New Republic and the Nation , v;hich could 
not be dismissed as just wholesale anti-Soviet. 

For instance, I recall items like this: that one of 
the men on trial had been placed as meeting an agent of a 
foreign government in a hotel in one of the Scandinavian 
countries some years after the hotel had been torn down. 
Now, when you come upon an error like this, you should pause 
and say, "Hey, why is there an error like this?" And there 
were not a few other blatant holes like this in the prosecu- 
tion evidence. And I read them and others did also, and why 
did we nevertheless accept the verdict? Because our emo- 
tional commitment to the cause of socialism, which we 
identified with the policies of the Soviet Union, blurred 
our intellectual perception. This is an explanation, it's 
not an excuse. If I had known in 19 3 7 what I came to know 



375 



in '57, I would have dropped out of the Communist party. 
Nevertheless I would have supported, let's say, the Loyalists 
in the Spanish civil war, as the Communist party did, and I 
would have opposed the cold war and the House Committee on 
Un-American Activities later, but I would not have remained 
in the party. 

Now, recently I have had some extended conversations 
with two historians in their mid- thirties , and they can't 
believe that I and others knew nothing about the internal 
oppression in the thirties in the Soviet Union--the arrests, 
imprisonments, tortures, executions. I won't maintain that 
there was no blindness involved here also, but I insist that 
there was no knowledge, and I believe I can prove it by the 
following facts. 

In 19 56 at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist 
party in the Soviet Union, Khrushchev revealed what had gone 
on. And when these savage facts were printed in the Daily 
Worker , thousands left the American Communist party, and 
those who remained entered into a frenzied debate about the 
causes and meaning of these horrors. In the next several 
years thousands more left the party. Within a few years the 
party was left with about one-quarter of the membership it 
had had in '56. The same intellectual and moral revulsion 
affected a larger group who were not party members in 19 56, 
but sympathizers. Now, if those Communist party members and 



376 



sympathizers had known in the years before '56 what was 
going on, why would they have been surprised and revolted 
by the Khrushchev revelations? They would have had their 
rationalizations ready and would have gone about their business 
unperturbed, just the way members of the Communist party 
do today. 

I want to add one other thing. When confronted by the 
confessions and saying, "Well, I_ wouldn't confess," I did 
not then know of the ingenious, or ingeniously fiendish, 
methods that the Soviets invented of breaking down human 
beings. I now believe that there is absolutely no human 
being--well, no, I won't say. ... I was going to say there 
is no human being they couldn't break down because I know 
that there were instances of people they couldn't break 
down. They merely shot them then. But there was a film 
called The Confession made a few years ago, and since most 
who happen to read this particular oral history will not have 
seen the film, I might mention that the Soviet practice is 
very simple. They wear people down by. . . . [tape recorder 
turned off] I said that the Soviet method is simple, and 
that's an error. Let's cut that one. The Soviets had 
different methods of breaking people down. And the book 
Confession by London, who was one of the Czechs involved in 
the [Rudolf] Slansky trial in 1952, gives a portrait of it. 
In addition there is The Gulag [Archipelago ] by Solzhenitsyn . 



377 



However, I was told one story in 19 59 in Poland, which 
is a symbolic example of what the Soviets do--not a literal 
example. It is perhaps one of the things that happened, but 
it can stand symbolically for what they achieved with people. 
The man who told this to me was the editor of a publishing 
house who had been a colonel in a Polish division attached 
to the Russian army during World War II. And he spoke very 
frankly to me when I became friendly with him and said, "How 
did it happen that people confessed?" I raised the very 
question that I've put here: that I myself would not confess- 
why did they ? He said, "I'll tell you a story." He said, 
"First of all, you must understand that many did not confess 
and were shot. I know from someone who was there that one 
example of this was ..." and he mentioned someone who had 
been in the foreign department — what do you call the foreign 
department? No, no, in the Soviet Union. . . . We don't 
say foreign department . . . 
GARDNER: State Department. 

MALTZ: State Department. One that had been that equiva- 
lent. And [this person] was brought down before a military 
court and was charged with crimes, and he said, "I am inno- 
cent and you are fascist murderers, and some day the party 
will catch up with you," and he was shot. And he said there 
were many like that. However, he said there were others like 
this; and he told of a leading member of the Communist party. 



378 



a member of the Central Committee, who was arrested and put 
into a cell with a good many others whom he recognized. And 
they said, "Oh, hello, So-and-so," and he said, "Don't talk 
to me. You are Trotskyite saboteurs and I am an honest 
Communist." And they said, "Oh, you don't want to talk to 
us? Okay." A little while later he was taken down to a 
room, a cellar room where there was a young, strong peasant 
in an army uniform, or maybe it was a secret-police uniform, 
and the man said to him, "What's your name?" And he said, 
my name is So-and-so. The policeman looked at him and after 
a moment said, "I'll ask you again: What is your name? " This 
leading Communist said, "But I just told you, sir, everybody 
knows me, I've been a member of the party for so many and so 
many years. I've been this. My name is So-and-so." A pause. 
The man said, "For the third time--and last time — I'll ask 
you: What is your name?" The man said, "I don't understand 
what's going on here. I've told you my name. My name is 
So-and-so. There's nothing else I can do." The young 
secret-police man gets up and knocks this man down, knocks 
his glasses off. He is bleeding from the nose and the 
policeman says, "Get up." The guy feels around, gets his 
glasses, puts them on, gets up, and the guy says, "What's 
your name?" He's unable to talk. He says, "What can I tell 
you other than what I told you before?" The policeman gets 
up and knocks him down again. And when this has been repeated 



379 



for a number of times, the policeman says, "I'll tell you 
what your name is," as the man is lying on the ground, "Your 
name is shit! Now get up." And the guy gets up and the 
policeman says, "Now, what's your name?" And he says, , 
"Well ... my name is . . . my name is shit." And he is 
then taken upstairs and put back in the cell. He comes into 
the cell and he says, "Comrades, what's going on in this 
place?" And they said, "Aha, now you are ready to talk to 
us, huh!" How do you like that for a story? 
GARDNER: Terrific. [tape recorder turned off] 
MALTZ : Immediately after Christmas 1936, I believe, I went 
to Detroit to get material for my first novel. The Underground 
Stream . I no longer remember exactly the idea that was the 
genesis of the book, although I know that it came to me the 
previous summer while I was still in Westport. But I do know 
that when I went to Detroit there were several things I 
wanted to find out about. The first was the murder of an 
organizer of the Unemployed Councils in Detroit by the name 
of Marchuck; and the second was the nature of an organization 
called the Black Legion which was an offshoot of the Ku Klux 
Klan and was operating in the Detroit area. It happened that 
there were sit-down strikes in many of the General Motors 
plants, and I think [in] the plants, perhaps, at Chrysler at 
that time in Detroit, and in Flint, Michigan, and in other 
states. These strikes were the culmination of the effort of 



380 



the CIO to organize the automobile industry. The technique 
of workers sitting down inside the plants at which they 
worked was a new one in the United States that had occurred 
previously in France and had been taken over by the American 
workers. In Michigan, because of the governor. Murphy, who 
was a liberal and a man of principle, there was no use of 
state troops or the national guard to get the workers out of 
the plants by force. This removed from the power of the 
companies the most effective weapon that they might have had. 
They could, of course, hire as many company policemen as they 
wished, and they hired a great many. They bought a great 
many weapons and a lot of tear gas, but when they were faced 
by some hundreds, or in certain cases thousands, of workers 
sitting in a plant it was not so easy to get them out. In 
addition to workers in the plants, there were picket lines 
outside. The automobile union in general had a very well- 
running organization to supply the men and women inside the 
plants with food and water, and then when the company in 
winter turned off the heat, with blankets and warm clothing, 
and to provide food and coffee for the pickets outside. 

I had introductions to several people in Detroit. One 
of them was the head of the Communist party of Detroit — a man 
called Weinstone, William Weinstone — and he put me in contact 
with certain others who were very active in the field so that 
I was able to do things like go to all of the large union 



381 



meetings and hear what was going on in the meetings. And I 
observed the picket lines and, in one or two cases, marched 
on them. (Observed the picket lines in action , I mean, and 
in one or two cases marched on them.) And I had a good deal 
of contact with a particular individual who was extremely 
stimulating. He was a local--! wouldn't say organizer; he 
was a Communist and I don't remember now whether. ... I 
think he was organizing among the auto workers. He was a 
Scotchman with a slight accent who was a fancy baker. He was 
so skilled as a baker that at that time he could make about 
twenty- two dollars a night (twenty- two dollars for twenty-four 
hours' work was an extraordinary wage), and then he'd live 
on that for the rest of the week. So he worked one night a 
week and would give the rest of his time to organizing. But 
he was a man with a great deal of charisma and a lot of 
knowledge, and I learned a lot from him about local conditions, 

I found out a good deal about the Black Legion (I won't 
go into it because I used the material in my book) , and then 
at one point I was invited by Weinstone to accompany him (I 
guess there were a few others) up to Flint, Michigan, where 
there was a particularly important crisis in the sit-down 
strikes. In one General Motors plant there were, I think, 
about 1,000 or 2,000 men. The union knew that there was going 
to be an attempt by force to eject the men, and I was there 
on the night on which this was attempted. This was done by 



382 



firing tear gas into the plant through the windows. But the 
workers knocked out other windows and they were able to resist 
the effect of the tear gas. 

I might say that I never knew how powerful a weapon tear 
gas was until that night because I was with a very large group 
of pickets just hanging around on the outskirts when the 
company police shot tear gas at us and in a fraction of a 
second my eyes were tearing so violently that I was absolutely 
blinded. I didn't know where I was. I ran with the group as 
we were running but I couldn't see anything. My eyes, of 
course, were burning in addition. And on that night I saw 
firsthand--! had not seen such things before--an excellent 
example of what the press can sometimes do, or what the press 
will do, when it is biased. There was a restaurant about 
twenty yards from the end of the building of this plant, and 
many of the pickets would go inside to drink a cup of coffee 
because the night was extremely cold. And I saw a company 
policeman walk in front of the restaurant and shoot a tear 
gas shell right through the plate-glass window. The next day 
the press reported that an unknown striker had thrown a tear 
gas bomb into the restaurant. 

I wrote a piece about that night [tape recorder turned 
off] which was called "Bodies by Fisher" and was published 
in the New Masses , and another piece called "Marching Song," 
which was published in New Theatre magazine. 



383 



There was one particular episode which I will never 
forget. At a moment when the police were firing tear gas 
into the plant, there was a union truck with a loudspeaker 
in the center of the wide street that separated two of the 
company's plants, and Victor Reuther, the younger brother of 
the man who would later become president of the union, Walter 
Reuther, was in the truck. His voice, urging the strikers to 
hold fast, rose higher and higher and higher above the sound 
of the exploding shells, and above the yells, and above the 
police sirens, and kept on indomitably--on and on and on. 
It was a moment of drama that was quite overwhelming. 

I remember that the next night when the workers of the 
sit-down had won that battle, I returned to Detroit in a car 
driven by a man who six months later died in Spain as a 
volunteer . 



384 



TAPE NUMBER: X, SIDE TWO 
SEPTEMBER 20, 1978 

GARDNER: We left off talking about the sit-down strikes, 
and you mentioned that you'd like to say a little more 
about that. 

MALTZ: I have a few more points on that. One correction: 
I believe I was in error in saying that Governor Murphy of 
Michigan did not call out the national guard. On the contrary, 
I believe he did call it out for duty in Flint, but it was 
for a unique purpose: it was to prevent vigilante attacks 
against the strikers, and this was very different from its 
usual role. For instance, I have mentioned that in 1934 I 
visited Toledo, where there had been an intense strike. And 
the national guard was called out. In the course of something 
that happened, three of the workers were shot and killed. 

Another point about the events in Detroit was the manner 
in which white and black workers put aside feelings of hatred 
toward each other and got together out of common necessity. 
For instance, I was introduced to a white picket captain who 
oversaw a whole section of line of pickets in front of a 
General Motors plant (I think the Cadillac plant, I'm not 
sure) . He, I was told, had held the rope at a lynching a 
month before he came up to work in Detroit. But in the cru- 
cible of the strike, when the workers needed solidarity each 



385 



for his own sake, this man overcame his prejudices enough to 
cooperate with black workers without revealing anything of 
what his feelings might be. And I used this man in part as 
a basis for one of the important characters in my novel about 
men in prison, A Long Day in a Short Life ; the name of the 
character was McPeak . I also drew on my experiences for, 
naturally, a great deal of the information and some of the 
characters in my novel The Underground Stream . 

The head of the state police of Michigan was an unusual 
man who made a practice of reading Marxist pamphlets and 
books and apparently took a great deal of pleasure in arguing 
with Communists under arrest and showing his knowledge of 
Marxism. I used him as the basis for a character called Grebb 
in ray novel. Also in part I used the notorious Bennett, who 
was the head of the Ford Motor Company's security personnel. 
I used the fancy baker I have referred to for aspects of my 
leading character, Princey, and various other individuals 
whom I met. And in addition, of course, I gathered general 
material in the course of visiting one of the auto plants 
that was not struck. I observed, among other things, a man 
at work on a heavy drop forge and I used that later in my 
novel The Cross and the Arrow . It's relevant, I think, to 
mention at this point that the Communist party played an 
enormous role in organizing the CIO. 
GARDNER: Now, were you aware when you went to Detroit of 



386 



what was going on between the AFL and the sort of fledgling 
CIO at that point? 

MALTZ : Oh, yes, I was very aware because, first of all, that 
was general knowledge and had been since at least 1934. In 
'34 when I was out in the Pittsburgh area, for instance, I 
met with a group who called themselves--who were rank-and-file 
steel workers, led by some Communists, who wanted to create 
an industrial union in steel and were being fought very bit- 
terly by the AF of L union in steel, which represented only 
a small portion of the skilled workers and was not interested 
in the others. This question of industrial unions versus 
craft unions was a major one in the trade union field in 
those years. And of course the reason why the CIO unions, 
under the leadership of John L. Lewis, broke away from the 
AF of L is because the old-line AF of L leadership refused 
to countenance the organization of unions which would take 
in all of the workers in a plant. And unless that were done 
there could never be any raising of the level of working 
conditions and pay for the great mass of working people. 
GARDNER: And then when you went to some place like Pittsburgh 
and then Detroit, you did meet with the — or hobnob is not 
exactly the word--but did you meet with the leaders of the 
various unions? 

MALTZ: No, I didn't meet with the leaders of unions; for 
instance, in Pittsburgh I certainly didn't meet with the 



387 



leaders of the AF of L union. 
GARDNER: I meant the CIO. 

MALTZ : I met with some of the rank and file of the CIO, and 
in Detroit and Flint it happened I met Walter Reuther (just 
being introduced to him) . I met two of the leading organizers 
in Flint--Wyndham Mortimer and Robert Travis — but I didn't 
work with them. They were very busy individuals and there- 
fore it was just a passing meeting. But I was aware of what 
they were doing, and I was in touch with rank-and-file members 
of the auto workers union so that I learned what was going on. 
I also was able to attend the meetings, the public meetings 
of the auto workers union. 

GARDNER: Were you doing any writing on these for the Worker , 
for example? 

MALTZ: No, not while I was there. Well, as a result of what 
I observed in Flint, I wrote two articles which I have men- 
tioned: one for the New Masses and one later for a theater 
magazine. But I wasn't there to report it. 
GARDNER: You weren't there as a reporter? 

MALTZ: No, I went purely to try and gather material if I 
could for the novel that I had envisioned the summer before. 

However, just coming back, and to make mention, the role 
of rank-and-file workers who were Communists, and the role of 
leaders like Mortimer and Travis, whom I have mentioned, was 
such that by 19 39 members of the Communist party emerged in 



388 



top leadership, or second-level leadership, of many unions-- 
among them auto, steel, rubber workers, mine, mill and smelt- 
er, electrical. West Coast longshore. New York transport 
workers. New York fur and painters union, the Florida ship- 
building, aircraft and agricultural unions, the newspaper 
guild, and so on. 

Now, this leadership was not achieved, as is often said 
in ignorance, or slanderously, by cunning or by sitting 
longer hours at meetings than others; it was the result of 
advocating policies and tactics that were to the advantage 
of the workers. It was the result of intelligence, sincerity, 
hard work, personal sacrifice for the union and, on many 
occasions, physical courage in the face of attacks by company 
goons or vigilantes or police. The Communist party made a 
great contribution to the unionization of American workers 
in the thirties, and this unionization ended corporate despo- 
tism for millions of workers who had been suffering miserable 
wages and working conditions. It also brought some democracy 
into communities where none had been before. For instance, 
some years before, a few years before, the mayor of Duquesne, 
a western Pennsylvania steel town, said, "Even Jesus Christ 
couldn't speak for unions in this town." And that was the 
measure of the general democracy that would have been per- 
mitted there. 

I returned to New York about the end of January and - 



389 



began to work out the form and direction of the novel . And 
I returned, of course, to those time-consuming activities 
which I was compelled by my inner needs at that time to con- 
tinue--work in the Theatre Union, work in the League of 
American Writers, on which I functioned on the executive 
board, and work in the Authors League, of which I was a 
member of the council. I think I have mentioned already that 
the Authors League was not a political organization, but it 
was in effect the trade union, or guild, of all professional 
writers. I continued to meet with the very special branch 
of the Communist party of which I was a member, but which 
involved no outside work beyond meetings. However, it did 
involve some reading and study, and in this respect it was 
different from other branches of the Communist party where 
members were asked to take on different sorts of assignments. 
My life, of course, at this time, and all others, always 
included reading and occasional movies and al] interesting 
theater, of which there was a good deal at that time in New 
York. And in addition, it was part of the routine of life 
to attend certain political meetings which went on in the 
general community--let ' s say, a rally about Spain or on any 
other subject of concern. I remember being present at one 
rather small public meeting at which there were three Spanish 
priests who had come over to try and lecture to the American 
public and tell them that not all of the Spanish clergy was 



390 



aligned with fascists. And I remember the severe attacks 
on them in the newspapers beforehand by the Catholic estab- 
lishment and verbal attacks on them in that meeting. 

The last production of the Theatre Union, Marching Song , 
written by John Howard Lawson, opened in February 19 37. Due 
to an illness I had in the fall of ' 36 and my subsequent trip 
to Detroit, I had very little part in its production. Since 
the Theatre Union had lost the Civic Repertory Theatre, a 
committee of the Executive Board searched for a theater in 
the Broadway area that was not too costly. One was found on 
Forty-second Street, the Nora Bayes Theatre. It was cheaper 
than others because it had been built on top of another 
theater and could only be reached by elevators. Although our 
price scale was raised, our tickets continued to be much 
lower than that of the regular Broadway theaters, and we 
hoped to make a new start there. 
GARDNER: What street did you say it was on? 

MALTZ: On Forty-second Street. I believe it was Forty-second 
Street, I wouldn't take an oath in court. [laughter] However, 
Marching Song opened to bad reviews, except in the Left press, 
and it had only a run of seven weeks. By the time it closed, 
the Theatre Union was also ready to shut up shop--not willingly, 
but because of bankruptcy . 

GARDNER: How had the character of the Theatre Union changed, 
or had it, during that period? Was it more or less the same 
people? 

391 



MALTZ : It had not changed. Some new people had come in. 
One or two people had ceased to be active. It basically 
had not changed and perhaps would have been better if it 
had changed. There was a certain lack of elasticity, I 
would say, and I'm going to talk about that in a moment. 
I think that the theater at all times lacked, let's say, 
some very gifted individual who might have brought to it 
a style and elan which we associate with some of the great 
theaters of the past. But we didn't have it. 

Now, in four years we had put on seven plays, and 
each year our indebtedness to the printer who placed our 
newspaper advertisements and to certain other services 
increased until it amounted to about $17,000 by the end of 
1936. And that was a considerable sum of money at that 
time. Perhaps half of it was in personal loans to friends 
of the theater who we knew would be gracious about accepting 
their loss. But the balance had to be met in part at least, 
and we could no longer do so, especially since the setup at 
the Nora Bayes Theatre was more difficult financially than 
the Civic Repertory had been. 

During the four years of its existence and the year of 
initial planning and propaganda, an enormous amount of 
energy and effort was expended by a considerable number of 
people. One of the biggest rewards to them--that is to say, 
to all of us--was an emotional intangible: the sense of 



392 



fraternal warmth, togetherness, and comradeship that comes 
when people join together to work for a common goal that 
they believe to be a worthy one. The goal can be anything 
as long as they think it's worthy. Individuals, of course, 
have goals. A husband and a wife have goals. And the 
striving to achieve these goals can be an intense and re- 
warding experience. But an additional and very powerful, 
very wholesome, emotional experience comes from an endeavor 
linked with others outside of one's family. At least this 
was how I felt during all of the total five years of endeavor, 
and I can remember it now with a good deal of pleasure. I 
was to experience this again a year later as a member of the 
Hollywood Ten--ten years later as a member of the Hollywood 
Ten. When I look back on what the Theatre Union achieved 
and didn't achieve, I feel that its contemporary achievements 
were noteworthy. It established a left-wing theater, which 
until that time had been completely amateur, on a professional 
basis in its writing, acting, direction, scenic design, and 
so on. Everyone of any talent connected with the theater 
went on to further professional work in theater or film or 
both. The Theatre Union ended racial discrimination in 
seating in the New York theater years before it ended in 
other areas of life, even in New York City. For instance, 
in restaurants, I can remember at one time, by example, 
right in the thirties wondering whether Richard Wright and 



393 



I would find a restaurant that would accept him for lunch 
when we wanted to find a place to eat. 
GARDNER: I wasn't aware of that. 

MALTZ: Oh, yes. Nowadays things are very different in 
those areas, but it was impossible in the thirties for a 
black man to walk into any of the hotels in mid-Manhattan 
and get a room. Just couldn't. And as late as, let's say, 
the forties, when black ballplayers first came into base- 
ball, into so-called professional baseball (they had been 
in the black leagues) , they were not allowed in the same 
hotels as the white players. 
GARDNER: Even in New York? 

MALTZ: I don't know whether that was so in New York, but 
it was certainly true in cities outside of New York and in 
restaurants in New York throughout the thirties that black 
people did not enter. There was one hotel in Harlem, the 
name of which I forget . . . 
GARDNER: The Teresa? 

MALTZ: Yes, that's right, the Teresa . . . which was the 
hotel that blacks went to when they came to New York. And 
it was part of Fidel Castro's style that he went there when 
he visited the United States shortly after he came to power 
in Cuba. 

The total audience attendance for the Theatre Union's 
seven plays amounted to over a half a million people, which 



394 



is considerable for a theater that seated, let's say, about 
1,200. And it included many individuals who had never before 
seen a play. Because, although they lived in New York City 
and there was theater in New York City, it was foreign to 
their way of life to go to a Theatre Guild play. It was 
just not part of what they did, and the Theatre Union changed 
that for them. The theater launched the careers of a number 
of new actors who went on to have quite brilliant careers-- 
John Garfield, Canada Lee and Lee Cobb. It also developed 
a system of audience organization with its theater parties 
that has been used ever since by other theaters . 
GARDNER: I didn't realize that was the. . . ? 
MALTZ: Yes, that was the creation. There had been theater 
parties, you see, before the Theatre Union came along, but 
the manner in which we handled them, the policy we developed, 
was one in which we allowed organizations to make a profit 
on the tickets. It was beneficial for us to have them take 
tickets at a cheaper price, and since the organizations could 
sell to their members at list price, they made a profit for 
their organization and worked hard to push the tickets. 
And as a result, we enormously expanded the method of having 
theater parties, and it proved to be a very solid manner for 
a way of organizing audiences. The existence of the Theatre 
Union in New York stimulated and supported left-wing amateur 
theater throughout the United States, and it contributed to 



395 



the growth of other professional theater groups like the 
Actors Repertory Theatre, which was headed by Will Geer , 

However, the Theatre Union did not invent any new forms 
of theatrical expression which had any lasting effect upon 
the American theater, nor did it develop, let's say, an 
acting technique as the Group Theatre did under the tutelage 
of Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman, and which was then 
carried on in the Actors Studio. Regrettably also the 
plays that the Theatre Union produced did not become part of 
what I would call the lasting dramatic literature of our 
time, although I think that at least Stevedore deserved to 
be, and probably also Sailors of Cattaro . I think that it 
was for political reasons that Stevedore never went into any 
anthologies, because reading it over just a few years ago, 
I found it to be a stunningly dramatic and, I think, fine 
play, which should be revived — which could be revived now, 
I think, with great success. 

In fact, I would say about the Theatre Union plays that, 
although they were different in content and locale, they 
tended to have a similarity of pattern that was summed up by 
Nathaniel Buchwald, a perceptive critic who wrote for a 
Communist Yiddish newspaper [ Morning ] Freiheit . He said, 
just in conversation at one point, that the plays could be 
characterized by a pattern that said: first act, we suffer; 
second act, we organize; and third act, we strike. And 
there was an element of real truth about this. I believe 



396 



that if the Theatre Union had lasted longer, it would have 
broken out of this pattern, but it was a fair and astute 
remark . 

Now, in 1963 Rutgers University Press published a 
book called Drama Was a Weapon by a simpleminded professor 
of English at Adelphi College whose name is Morgan Himelstein, 
He stated the thesis of his book on the first page: "Armed 
with the slogan 'Drama is a weapon' the Communist party 
attempted to infiltrate and control the American stage during 
the Great Depression of the 19 30s." This is the thesis of 
his whole book, and he comes to the satisfied conclusion that 
the Communist party failed in this attempt. Now, with this 
thesis he reduced a large social phenomenon to a Communist 
party plot: that is, the world economic depression of the 
thirties, the existence of the Soviet Union, the existence 
of fascism in Italy and the rise of a more malignant fascism 
in Germany, the New Deal under Roosevelt, the struggle of 
workers to get their own unions--all these were phenomena of 
the time. It was impossible for people not to be affected 
by them, and it was impossible for these events not to be 
reflected in the theater of the period. 

For instance, the Theatre Guild, which had been for 
some years the outstanding theater organization in New York 
and in the United States, and which was noted for its truly 
splendid productions of good American and European and 



397 



classical plays, proceeded in the course of the thirties to 
put on They Shall Not Die , by John Wexley, which was not only 
a dramatic play about the case of the Scottsboro boys, who 
were then imprisoned and awaiting the final judgment in 
their case, but it was also, to an extent, an agitational- 
propaganda play. They put on Idiot's Delight by Robert 
Sherwood, which dealt with the question of war. They put 
on Parade by Paul Peters and George Sklar, the authors of 
Stevedore , which was a satiric musical review, and quite a 
few other plays that were decidedly different from their 
previous repertoire because they involved issues of social 
content rather than merely interpersonal relations. I don't 
mean by that that the Theatre Guild completely changed its 
bill of fare — because it didn't--but it did proceed to add 
this new dimension of social plays, plays of social content, 
to its repertoire. 

Now, the Group Theatre, which had come into existence 
in 1931, provided a varying bill of plays over the next ten 
years that varied from something as left-wing as Odets ' play 
Waiting for Lefty to such a, let's say, middle-class play as 
Men in White by Sidney Kingsley. And this is a theater that 
can be best described as a liberal theater. 

During these years there was the growth of other theaters 
as well: the Actors Repertory, of which Will Geer was the 
leader; the Theatre of Action, which was very left wing; 



398 



the Mercury Theatre, under Orson Welles, which on the one 
hand produced Shakespeare and, on the other hand, The Cradle 
Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein. And there was the WPA Theatre, 
some of whose plays had as much social content as the plays 
of the Theatre Union. And finally in this period, a magazine 
called New Theatre came into existence and in a few months 
achieved a circulation that made it a competitor of other 
theater magazines of the day. 

Now, Professor Himelstein, however, instead of viewing 
all of this theatrical ferment and activity as a natural 
result of the events of the period, finds it evidence of his 
simpleminded thesis that the Communist party tried to take 
over the /unerican theater, and that the production of a play 
of social content by the Theatre Guild was a manifestation 
of this plot, and the Group Theatre was a manifestation of 
this plot, and so on. Now, this foolishness is an example, 
not only of his personal shallowness, but of the influence 
of McCarthyism on the writing of history. There are two 
books about that period that have come to my attention that 
have much more merit (although, in my opinion, both are 
flawed) : one of them is The Political Stage by Professor 
Malcolm Goldstein, and the other is Stage Left by Jay Williams 
I think I ought to mention that some of the records of the 
Theatre Union are to be found today in the library of the 
Lincoln Center in New York [New York Public Library at 



399 



Lincoln Center] . I understand that they are not in good 
condition. And some data is among my materials in the 
University of Wisconsin's Center for Film and Theatre 
Research. 

GARDNER: Do you think Theatre Union could have made a go 
of it had it varied its fare, or would that have been 
philosophically impossible? In other words, had there 
been a classic or something that was more likely to make 
some money tossed in? 

MALTZ: You mean had it, in addition to doing plays of 
social content, let's say, also put on Shakespeare? Well, 
I think that it might well have. I'm not sure. No, I 
think it might well have, and I think perhaps it would have 
been a much profounder approach to such a theater to have 
done that. I know that I, for instance, was very well 
aware during the years of the Theatre Union of the plays of 
Galsworthy, many of which I thought were simply remarkable, 
and I do still today. I would have loved to have us present 
a play like Justice or The Silver Box or The Skin Game , which 
were plays, let's say, of social content. But they would 
not have had the type of a more Marxist approach which we 
wanted to have in the Theatre Union — a broad approach but 
nevertheless touched by Marxism that was satisfactory to the 
Socialist members of our group as well as the Communists. 
I think that if we had done plays like that, we might have 



400 



come off better financially and so have had a longer life. 
But it's also true that the Group Theatre did more plays like 
that and, for instance, did a play by Maxwell Anderson, who 
was a very successful American playwright, a very successful 
playwright in the commercial theater. Nevertheless, that 
particular play was a flop. Running a theater is a gamble. 
But, let's say, if I were starting all over again, I would 
want to do what you just suggested. 

GARDNER: Was it a conscious choice not to on the part of the 
people who ran it, or did it just develop that way? 
MALTZ : It just developed that way. We wanted to start a 
theater that would be a theater of social meaning. I 
think, well, let's just turn off for a second and I will. . . 
[tape recorder turned off] 

The Theatre Union's opening statement to the public when 
it announced its first play said: "We produce plays that 
deal boldly with the deep-going social complex--the economic, 
emotional, and cultural problems that confront the majority 
of the people. Our plays speak directly to this majority 
whose lives usually are caricatured or ignored on the stage. 
We do not expect that these plays will fall into accepted 
social patterns . This is a new kind of professional theater 
based on the interests and hopes of the great mass of working 
people." Now, this is what guided us and we tried to adhere 
to it. But I think, to name these plays of Galsworthy that 



401 



I have, it would have been a more interesting theater if we 
had continued in that way. But we didn't. [laughter] 

Now, my discussion of the Himelstein book leads me to 
the brief, very brief, discussion of the manner in which 
history is written. I would say in the last fifteen years 
I have read some books which deal with events of which I was 
a part, and I have been appalled by the enormous amount of 
errors, both of fact and of interpretation and understanding, 
that appear in them. For instance, an article appeared in 
a magazine on theater about the production of Brecht's Mother , 
written by Lee Baxandall. Now, Baxandall sent questionnaires 
to all of the living members of the Theatre Union he could 
not see in person and interviewed the others. He certainly 
made an effort to be thorough and accurate in his research, 
and yet, from my point of view, there are various errors in 
the article that came not from him but from other members of 
the Theatre Union whose memory I regarded as being fallacious. 
But I certainly would never take the position that only my 
memory is infallible, and therefore I recognize that I too, 
in the writing of history, would make errors. 

However, one of the reasons why I was very eager to do 
this oral history was that I felt that whatever errors I 
would make (and I hoped I would make few) , I knew that I 
could set the record straighter on certain events in which 
I had participated than many of those who were writing 



402 



about it. And so, as I have gone along, I have tried to 
check my memory by all available books in order to at least 
avoid errors of fact. Interestingly enough, I would still 
go back to a work like Jefferson and Hamilton by Bowers 
and, I'm sure, be persuaded by it and feel that it was 
soundly written. Nevertheless I now do come to the conclu- 
sion that we are always reading, at any given moment, flawed 
history, and that there is no way around the subject. 

In a conversation just today with someone, I remembered 
that Charles and Mary Beard, who certainly were very well- 
respected historians, in a large book that was a history of 
America and American democracy (I don't remember the exact 
title) passed over the Civil War without making any mention 
of the black troops in the northern army. And yet one of 
the decisive military factors in the last year of the war 
was the presence of this 200,000 body of black troops in 
the army and of the half a million other blacks who were 
in transport behind the lines, digging trenches, carrying 
ammunition, so forth. So this is an example of the way 
in which history can be written. 

I'd like now to give a little attention to the phrase 
"proletarian literature," which I was supposed to be 
writing, among others, and to ask what it is. In 1935. . . 
[sound interf erence--tape recorder turned off] 



403 



TAPE NUMBER: XI, SIDE ONE 
SEPTEMBER 20, 1978 

GARDNER: You were about to begin talking about prole- 
tarian literature. 

MALTZ : Yes. In 1935, an anthology, Proletarian Litera- 
ture in the United States was published by International 
Publishers, which was the Coininunist party publishing 
house. And it was published not many months after the 
first League of American Writers congress, and its 
contributors had for the most part been present at the 
congress. Now, some of the contributors, whose names 
are v/ell known forty-three years later as I dictate this, 
are Erskine Caldwell, John Dos Passes, James T. Farrell, 
Michael Gold, Langston Hughes, Kenneth Patchen, Muriel 
Rukeyser, Richard Wright, Clifford Odets, John Wexley, 
rialcolm Cowley. The fact that these well-known writers-- 
plus others of merit whose names are not so well known-- 
would all have agreed to have material of theirs published 
in a volume called Proletarian Literature in the United 
States , which was to be published by a Communist publishing 
house, is a comment on the spirit of those times which 
needs no explanation. 

Now, actually, the anthology contained a miscellany 
of fiction, poetry, drama, and criticism, which was 



404 



unified by a common denominator--that is, its materials 
were of social criticism or social protest. The term 
proletarian literature was the subject of much discussion 
at that time and down the years. What did it actually 
mean? According to Webster, a proletarian was a 
member of the wage-earning class. Now, could we say 
that a poem or story written by a worker or by a farm 
laborer was ipso facto a piece of proletarian writing? 
Well, in practice, what if the author was a southern 
white laborer who described with glee the lynching of 
a black man? Or if a middle-class writer presented a 
play sympathetic to the cause of coal miners, as I did 
in my play Black Pit --did that make it a proletarian 
play and make me a proletarian writer? Actually it 
was a term that defied accurate definition and yet was 
used constantly. Joseph Freeman, in his introduction 
to the volume Proletarian Literature in the United 
States wrote this: "Often the writer who describes 
the contemporary world from the viewpoint of the prole- 
tariat is not himself a worker. War, unemployment, a 
widespread social economic crisis drive middle-class 
writers into the ranks of the proletariat. Their 
experience becomes contiguous to or identical with 
that of the working class . They see their former 
life and the life of everyone around them with new 



405 



eyes. Their grasp of experience is conditioned by 
the class to which they have now attached themselves. 
They write from the viewpoint of the revolutionary 
proletariat. They create what is called proletarian 
literature." That's the end of the quotation. 

Well, there are some inaccuracies here. In the 
first place, Freeman was making an assumption that 
because of the Depression, middle-class writers were 
being driven into the ranks of the proletariat. Well, 
actually I can't remember any writers who particularly • 
well, there were some writers, let's say, who when they 
came upon hard times took factory jobs for a while, 
like Ben Field, or became a carpenter, like Alexander 
Saxton. But whatever the temporary financial diffi- 
culties during the Depression, or the need to go on 
WPA, most of the middle-class writers who felt sympa- 
thetic to the working class and who wrote about problems 
of the working class remained what they were: they 
remained middle-class people. So that this was an 
inaccurate description of what was happening. 

But in actuality, in practice, when Freeman says 
that "they write from the viewpoint of the revolutionary 
proletariat, " in practice what this meant was they-- 
in practice, this viewpoint of a revolutionary prole- 
tariat became the Communist party political line at 



406 



any given moment. For instance, if you had someone 
who wrote a play, as I did, or if you had someone who 
wrote a play or a novel that was approved by writers 
on the Daily Worker and the New Masses , they would 
say, "This is a fine novel or story about the prole- 
tariat, this is a proletarian writer." If the same 
writer the next year wrote, and his particular point 
of view was not in accord with that of the Communist 
party political line, he would no longer be granted 
that term of approval--proletarian writer. So in fact 
this was a definition that meant nothing in theory 
and, in practice, meant something extremely narrow. I'll 
pause for a moment. [tape recorder turned off] Long 
before I left the Communist party on political grounds, 
I decided that the word proletarian literature was 
meaningless, and I ceased to use it as a description 
of anything. However, I never tried to raise a dis- 
cussion of it in print because my writing interests 
lay elsewhere. 

Now, during the general period I've been discussing, 
my own effort to write fiction was advancing quite 
successfully. In 1935, when my last full-length play 
was produced, I published my first two short stories. 
One of them, "Man on a Road," was reprinted in The Best 



407 



[American] Short Stories of 1936 and to date has been 



reprinted over fifty times in other anthologies and 
magazines, and in many countries. It was also reprinted 
in the Fifty Best Short Stories of 1915 to 1939 . 
GARDNER: Say something more about "Man on a Road" 
first. I'll ask you a couple of things about it. 
MALTZ : Oh, yes, there are a lot of things I can say 
about it, but. . . , 

GARDNER: First, was it based on an actual event? 
MALTZ: Yes, I should have mentioned that, I guess. 
"Man on a Road" came about in the following manner. 
I was driving in West Virginia from a southern part of 
the state up to an area of the soft-coal mining section 
called Scotts Run where I wanted to do some research for 
Black Pit . And I picked up a man who was a miner. As 
we passed through a town called Gauley Bridge, he told 
me of the tragedy that had occurred there when a great 
many unemployed miners living in the town had gone to 
work, very happily, for a company that was building a 
tunnel through a mountain. Unknown to the men, the tunnel 
was made of a great deal of silica, which caused a dust 
that got into their lungs, and they were not issued 
any masks while doing this work with steam hammers. 
And as a result, men contracted silicosis, and by the 
time the job had ended — I think it took about a year — 



408 



many of them were fatally ill. I recall his describing 

to me the fact (I believe I recall accurately) that 

he told me that in a . . . not dissection--what do 

pathologists do? I forget the word. 

GARDNER: Dissect? 

MALTZ : Not dissection . . . in a . . . 

GARDNER: Autopsy? 

MALTZ: . . . in an autopsy of a man who had died of 

silicosis, the doctor took his lungs and put them on 

the ground, and they stood erect from the amount of 

silica in them. I now forget how many men had already 

died and how many had contracted it, but it was a 

blight on the whole town. When I got back to New 

York-- Oh, during my stay in Scotts Run, while doing 

my research (I was there for about a week) , I got the 

idea for the story "Man on a Road." Sitting nights 

in a hot little crib of a hotel room, I wrote it on the 

back of the hotel stationery and finished it within 

that week. But when I got back to New York, I told 

some friends on the New York Post about this, and nothing 

came of it. So I then told someone I knew who worked 

for a labor wire service which no longer is in existence. 

This wire service not only sent material to other papers 

but it published a weekly of its own. And it sent a 

reporter down to Gauley Bridge and he came back with 



409 



material on this. They ran it serially in their news- 
paper, and as a result of these stories a congressional 
investigation came about. And at the time of a con- 
gressional vote about it ... on the subject, these 
articles and my short story were put on the desk of 
every congressman to acquaint them with the facts. Well, 
that's it. That's about all. 

GARDNER: That's fine. No, I had read that--that it 
was used during those hearings--but I also had wondered 
whether or not that had come from an original conver- 
sation. 

MALTZ: Yes, it did. 

GARDNER: Because, to me, one of the most fascinating 
things was the capturing of the language of the hitch- 
hiker, which was remarkable for a writer who was really 
from such a more academic kind of New York sort of 
background . 

MALTZ: Well, I'll tell you, one of the things that 
I did, when I say I did research, was always to try 
and capture the language of the people I was talking to. 
For instance, in the mine area, where a great many of 
the miners were Slavic-born, I wrote down the way in 
which they spoke and practiced it. So that when I came 
back from those fields, I could talk like any Slavic 
miner who. . . . 



410 



GARDNER: As in Black Pit . 

MALTZ: Yes, as in Black Pit . And when I went South, 

I not only tried to practice southern speech, but 

when I stopped off for a night at a hotel, for instance, 

I would speak like a southerner to the hotel clerk 

and ask him for a room, just in an effort to command 

it. Well, it's just one of the things that writers 

do, you know, many writers--nothing unusual about it. 

Well, go on. 

In 1937 I published two more short stories, one 
of them in the New Yorker and a novelette in Story 
magazine. The title of the latter was "Season of 
Celebration," but Story magazine, on its own, changed 
it to "Hotel Raleigh, the Bowery." The following 
year it was printed together with four other novelettes 
in a Book-of-the-Month selection called The Flying 
Yorkshireman . The title of the anthology was also 
the title of one of the novelettes by Eric Knight, and 
this brings me to another topic, which is what I would 
call "lost works of literature." 

In the late twenties, when I was a student at 
Columbia University, a professor of English there, 
Raymond Weaver, rediscovered Moby Dick . It had been 
a forgotten book. And in fact Herman Melville did no 



411 



writing the last twenty years of his life because he 
was so disappointed in his career. Now, when I started 
to write, there were works that I studied and that 
I loved and that had an influence over me. One of them 
was The Seven Who Were Hanged by Leonid Andreyev; the 
second was a volume of Galsworthy's short stories; 
another was a volume of de Maupassant's short stories; 
and then there was the work of Liam 0' Flaherty. I would 
be fairly sure that Andreyev's The Seven Who Were Hanged 
and the works of 0' Flaherty are not on the reading lists 
of college majors in English these days. And I know 
that when I visited England in the year 1959, Galsworthy, 
I was told by my literary agent there, was read only by 
high school boys; whereas I considered him, then and 
now, to be a major writer of the English language. 

Now, Eric Knight's marvelous mix of fantasy, humor 
and tenderness in The Flying Yorkshireman and in Never 
Come Monday and other stories I should imagine are foreign 
to readers today--including , say, majors in English 
literature--and this is a very sad phenomenon. I remember 
meeting in 1962 a PhD student of English literature at 
UCLA who had already taught a year at Princeton in the 
English department and who asked me, among other questions, 
whether I thought he ought to read some of the short 
stories of Erskine Caldwell. Now, for anyone in the 



412 



thirties and forties to teach English literature and 
not to know the stories of Erskine Caldwell was unheard 
of. But here, in '62, this completely earnest, hard- 
working man had not been called upon in any of his 
courses to read those stories. 

I've tried to wonder if there's any solution to 
this problem. Because as one goes along, there are 
always new books coming out, and there's the pressure to 
read new books that are being written about and talked 
about. I think the Modern Library used to perform a 
considerable service in this regard by maintaining in 
print worthy books that were of the past; and Everyman, 
the Everyman series [Everyman's Library] in England 
did the same. And it's occurred to me that what we 
need is a government-subsidized, but not -supervised, 
edition that would be maintained in all universities, 
high schools, and public libraries in the land to 
keep alive work of literary merit. I think we're 
better off in the field of records of classical music 
in this respect, where we're able to hear, not only 
the works of Beethoven, Bach and Brahms, and others 
of the top composers, but less great composers who 
nevertheless have written superb individual works. 
That is, I would hate not to be able to hear Pachelbel's 
Canon in D as I would hate to have missed Gorky's 



413 



extraordinary story Birth of a Man and Eric Knight's 
The Flying Yorkshireman . With this modest little 
suggestion, I leave it to future generations to try and 
solve the problem. 

One of the phenomena of the thirties and early forties 
was the coming to the United States of some of the 
outstanding intellectuals of Europe — from Germany, 
Italy, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and other 
countries. Many were Jews, like Einstein; others 
were not, but were purely political refugees, like 
Thoman Mann. Scientists, authors, scholars and teachers, 
psychiatrists, social scientists--it was an immigration 
of intellect into our land such as I think the world 
has never seen into any other land. It was of enor- 
mous benefit to the United States. It is, for instance, 
dubious if the atom bomb (whatever we may think of 
it now) would have been constructed by the time it 
was without the contribution of foreign physicists. 
The realistic assessments made by these outstanding 
intellectuals of the nature of the Nazi regime was 
also of a great deal of importance in fashioning 
political consciousness here. Among those refugees that 
I personally came to know were the former Minister 
of Justice of the state of Prussia; Franz Weiskopf, 
a Czech author and critic of whom I will speak later. 



414 



(By the way, Clifford Odets unashamedly stole a short 
story of Weiskopf's that was printed in the New Masses , 
and he fashioned it into his one-act play Till the Day 
I Die . I know about this because Weiskopf and I had 
a mutual agent, and the agent got after Odets for it, 
and Odets paid up.) Two other refugees I knew were 
both Czechs. One was Egon Erwin Kisch, a very urbane 
journalist who published not a few books that are 
most engaging reading. 

The second could be called a--well, the second 

y 

was a political leader who had two names. Andre Simon 
was one name under which he had published a book in 
France that was translated into English and which I 
read in the mid- thirties , a book on political events 
in the world. His other name, and real name apparently, 
was Otto Katz. And he came here in the middle thirties 
to raise money for the German underground. After the 
war was over, he went back to Czechoslovakia and there 
became editor of the official Communist party newspaper. 
He then in 1952 was one of the Czech leaders arrested 
and put on trial with the secretary of the Communist 
party, Slansky, and he "confessed" in court to the lies 
of having been both a British and a Zionist agent 
against Czechoslovakia, and he was hanged. 



415 



Finally, I would mention Karl Billinger and his 
wife, Hede Massing. Billinger was a tall, handsome, 
blond German who had been a teaching functionary, 
on a minor level, of the Communist party of Germany, 
had spent a year in a German concentration camp, and 
then had been allowed to go free. The Nazis did that 
sometimes in the early years. He escaped from Germany 
then with the aid of his wife and came to the United 
States. His book. Fatherland , had been published 
here around the year '36, I guess, and I was one of 
those who read it and was enormously impressed with 
it. Subsequently I met him, and it came about that 
he and his wife, and my wife and I, became friends. 
I valued them very much and learned a great deal from 
him. 

In the year 1939, I believe, they took a trip to 
the Soviet Union, and when they returned, they were 
changed people. They didn't want to speak about what 
was going on in the Soviet Union, but we gathered 
that they had learned things that were tremendously 
distressing to them. I no longer recall whether they 
let drop some hints or I found out subsequently that 
what they had learned was that many German refugees 
whom they had known at home, and who had gone to the 
Soviet Union, had disappeared into Stalin's concentration 



416 



camps or had been shot. The result of this was that 
Billinger retired from public life and, so far as I 
know, from any position on politics. When I last heard 
of him, he was teaching at a small college. But his 
wife, Hede Massing--! don't know whether they remained 
married--became a very active informer for the FBI. 
Her anti-Soviet hatred took her to the point where she 
appeared as a witness in various trials against left- 
wingers. I guess that about covers that point for the 
moment. 

In the spring of 1937 the second conference of 
the--Second Congress, not conf erence--of the League 
of American Writers took place, I would say that this 
was the high-water mark of Communist party leadership 
among the nation's writers. For instance, at the large 
public mass meeting at Carnegie Hall among the speakers 
were Hemingway, Vincent Sheean and Archibald MacLeish. 
What this congress was essentially was a mobilization of 
writers to express antifascist political sentiments, 
and sentiments in favor of the Loyalist side in Spain. 
Now, although in the course of the several days there 
were working panels on literary matters--and I recall 
Dashiell Hammett reading a quite fascinating paper 
on tempo in writing--it was primarily an assembly of 
writers for common political purposes. Unfortunately, 



417 



I no longer have the publications, the books, that 
resulted from these congresses, although they must be 
in some libraries. 

In the Slimmer of 1937 Margaret Larkin and I took 
a small cottage in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where 
our only lighting was kerosene lamps, and I went to work 
writing intensively on The Underground Stream . I finished 
a first draft by the end of summer. I think I might 
mention that I had a certain formulated approach to the 
writing of that first novel, a general theory of writing, 
which consisted of the following. 

First, I wanted to avoid the dangers of journalistic 
writing by writing every novel as though it was a 
historical novel. That is to say, my purpose was not 
to affect current events by my novel in the way in which 
a writer might try to affect current events by writing 
an editorial or a leaflet or an article, or by the way 
in which John Wexley wrote They Shall Not Die . I had 
nothing against anybody doing that kind of work. 
GARDNER: You just didn't want to do it yourself. 
MALTZ: But I didn't want to write a novel in that 
manner. I wanted it to have, if possible, those qualities 
that might make someone want to read it ten, fifteen, 
or twenty years from now, when the current events that 
were going on had been forgotten. Secondly, I felt 



418 



that the richest and most profound work came from 
novels that provided characters in their social setting-- 
the reason for this being that characters do not live, 
let's say, purely within themselves, but they live 
at a given time and place and that they can't help but 
be influenced by the world, the city, the country, the 
town in which they live. Now, War and Peace is perhaps 
the best example of a major novel that embodies this. 
On the other hand, I loved Look Homeward, Angel as a 
novel, and I loved stories of interpersonal relation- 
ship by Chekhov and de Maupassant. But on the other 
hand, I rejected the thesis of those who felt that 
dealing with social materials was not art. I couldn't 
see why the dramatization of social injustice was not 
as valid a subject for literary materials as the drama- 
tization of a love affair. And it's interesting that 
those who have accepted war novels as art ... (I guess 
I have to get a piece of paper) . . . Itape recorder 
turned off] . . . now reject strike novels as propa- 
ganda . 

After completing the first draft of The Under - 
ground Stream , I circulated a few carbon copies among 
friends for the next month. Those were the days, of 
course, before Xerox machines, and only if you lived 
through the work of making carbon copies and trying to 



419 



get the best carbon paper and the best and the thinnest 
paper so that you would eke out five or six copies, 
perhaps, that were legible, do you appreciate Xerox 
machines as I do now. And it's always been my practice 
to ask for reactions, when I finish a manuscript, from 
selected friends because I would much rather make changes 
in a book before it's published than say afterwards, 
"I wish I had thought of that." And on the basis of 
the comments I received, I decided to do a considerable 
revision. 

But I delayed work on it because in the early fall 
I was offered the chance to do some part-time teaching, 
and the money that would be involved was something 
important to me. The offer came through my friend 
Michael Blankfort, who had been doing this teaching 
at the adult extension division of New York University 
in downtown Washington Square. He had decided to go 
to Hollywood to try and improve his financial fortunes 
there and had suggested me to the dean of the adult 
education school, whom I visited and who found me 
acceptable . 

GARDNER: Do you remember the name of that person? 
MALTZ: The dean? I don't. 
GARDNER: If you don't, don't worry about it. 



420 



MALTZ: A marvelous man, a lovely man, but I don't 
remember his name. The class I taught at first, because 
subsequently I enlarged the niomber of classes, was one 
to which anyone could be admitted who wanted to sign up. 
I prepared lecture notes with great care so that the 
first ten sessions of the course were just occupied 
with my lectures on basic playwriting. It was a two- 
hour course that met once a week at night. I gave 
a writing assignment, at first merely an exercise, and 
secondly, a one-act play. I read all of the work and 
either wrote written comments or had personal inter- 
views before and after the class with the individuals-- 
not interviews, but personal sessions with the indi- 
viduals. And this continued for that semester and 
went on later. I guess I might mention that I continued 
this right through the year 1940 ... I continued 
this until the spring of 1941. And the classes grew. 
I established a workshop to which admission could only 
come on the basis of my having read a one-act play 
which I felt had some merit, and so I had a round 
table of about twelve students. By the second year 
it required two such sessions, two round tables, so 
that, in all, by the end of the first year I was teaching 
three courses about six hours a week on two different 



421 



nights. And I found that I enjoyed teaching very much. 
Now, although this is not a personal autobiography, it's 
necessary to give certain personal data. Late in 1937 
Margaret and I decided to adopt a child, and for that 
reason we got married. Now to a larger subject. 

I don't know whether it was because of my reading of 
Let History Judge by Roy A. Medvedev (a book I have men- 
tioned before) that I came to the conclusions I am going 
to discuss now, or whether I had come to the conclusion 
myself and then found it fortified in my reading of the 
book. But it is my belief that German fascism would not 
have achieved power if not for Stalin and for Stalin's 
theory of social fascism. We have to go back to the 
end of World War I, in which various efforts were made 
to establish Communist governments — one in Germany and 
the other in Hungary. And the Socialist party in each 
country sided with the government in power to put down 
these uprisings. Now, it was the international 
socialist movement that had really betrayed the European 
working-class movement in World War I by supporting the 
war. Not long before the war began there was a meeting 
of the Socialist International, and it was agreed 
that the Socialists would not support their govern- 
ments in any way which they declared in advance 



422 



would be an imperialist war. But when only a few 
months later the war broke out, the Socialist parties 
of Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, Italy, Britain 
all violated their own agreement and proceeded with 
patriotic fervor to support the war. In the light 
of these events Stalin, who was not only the leader of 
the Soviet Union but was the head of the Comintern 
(which was the international association of Communist 
parties of the world) , promulgated the theory of social 
fascism. To quote Let History Judge : "At the beginning 
of the thirties Stalin came down hardest on the left 
Social Democrats who enjoyed considerable influence 
among the working class in several European countries. 
He called them the most dangerous part of social democ- 
racy because they concealed their opportunism with 
phoney revolutionism and thus drew the people away from 
the Communists. ..." The practical result of calling 
the Socialists in these countries social fascists, 
which was the Stalin doctrine, was that in practice there 
could be no unity between the Communist party of Germany 
and the Socialist party in the face of the Hitler 
threat. The Communists advocated a united front with 
Socialists, but only from below--not with their leader- 
ship. Well, of course, this caused the Socialists 
to warn their rank and file against any unity with 



423 



the Communists. Even worse, the Communists set up 
separate trade unions and thus split the working class; 
instead of, let's say, having their workers remain in 
the Socialist unions, they drew them apart from the 
Socialist unions into Red. . . . 



424 



TAPE NUMBER: XI, SIDE TWO 
SEPTEMBER 20, 19 78 

MALTZ : Now, if there was any possible justification 
for the phrase "social fascists" in the late twenties, 
or in the twenties, and even in the early thirties-- 
to maintain that attitude, and to maintain separate 
trade unions, in the face of a rising Hitler movement 
was to be completely blind to realities. Again, to 
quote Let History Judge : "All the Social Democratic 
workers everywhere were not only insulted to the 
depth of their souls, they were infuriated by the 
communist position. And they could not forgive the 
Communists for this. The theory of social fascism 
month by month week by week was paving the way for 
Hitler. " 

GARDNER: Now at this time, though, you would have 
been very much in Stalin's . . . 

MALTZ: Well, actually, it's very interesting about 
me personally. When the Theatre Union began, the 
word social fascist was also used in the United States. 
And indeed the other countries, like Germany, but not 
in such a critical situation, had carried out a similar 
principle. The American Communist party had set up 
left-wing trade unions, set up Communist-led trade 



425 



unions, in certain industries especially in the light 

of the AF of L maintaining craft unions. But first of 

all, in 1934 when I was out in the coal fields, I ran 

into this in practice, and I remember a Communist 

party organizer on a low level saying to me, "This 

policy of maintaining our trade union is crazy. Now 

that the United Mine Workers has been recognized by 

the NRA, the miners are just going into [John L.] Lewis's 

union, and we've got to dissolve our union and go 

into that, too. I keep telling them up in Pittsburgh, 

and they're not paying any attention to me." So I listened 

to what this man said, who was on the ground, and I 

thought this made sense. And secondly, we in the Theatre 

Union, without any instruction from anybody, had come 

to our own united front back in 1933. We didn't need 

the debacle of fascism coming to power to take a more 

intelligent course. So that I heard this doctrine 

of social fascism but, you see, by the time I really 

came around--let me see, the Reichstag fire . . . seems 

to me that it was . . . yes, it was in '34, I believe . . . 

GARDNER: Well, that's easily verified. 

MALTZ : Yes, I know because one of my first acts when 

I came--no, it seems to me--was it '32? No, seems to 

me in '33 I was in a meeting protesting the burning of 

books in Germany after the Reichstag fire ... it 



426 



must have been '33. In any instance, the main point 
here was that — I said the early thirties, I was wrong . . 
no. . . . Well, I'll correct it later. The main point 
is that this doctrine of social fascism helped keep the 
German working class split. There were even certain 
moments when, on issues in the Reichstag, I know the 
Communist party voted on the same side as the Nazi party 
on certain issues. And there was a general 
attitude that the Nazis were so nutty that if they came 
to power they would fall out of their own stupidity 
within a few months. There was not the awareness of what 
was going to happen. And so, looking back, this 
indictment of Stalin is a most profound one because from 
Hitler-fascism came World War II. And if this could 
have been avoided by a united German working class, 
humanity would have been saved, I guess, the cruelest 
period of its whole history. 

GARDNER: The many tens of millions killed. . . . 
MALTZ: Incredible. Incredible the amount of human 
suffering and destruction. So I think with that . . . 
GARDNER: ... on that cheery note . . . [laughter] 
MALTZ: . . .we'll call it a day. 

SECOND PART (October 3, 19 78) 
MALTZ: I'd like to make a correction of the last point 



427 



I made in our previous session. I believe I said that 
the Stalin policy of declaring the Social Democrats 
to be social f ascists--which resulted in separate Com- 
munist trade unions, in a united front only from below 
and not between the leaderships--paved the way, or 
brought about. Hitler-fascism. And I want to amend 
this to say that it was one of the factors that contributed 
to the conquest of power by Hitlerism, but that I think 
I had an overemphasis on it in the first way I put it 
because there certainly were other important contributing 
factors. 

I'd like to mention that in the general period 
of 1935 to 1939 people on the Left and, I would say, 
people who were liberal and not further left than that, 
were all affected to some extent, and some quite pro- 
foundly, by the songs of the period which came out 
of the Left. For instance, the songs that came out of 
Spain, out of the International Brigades and the 
Lincoln Brigade and so on, were not only played at 
meetings having to do with Spain but they became 
records and people played them in their homes and 
played them for friends; and they cannot be discounted 
as factors that contributed a good deal of emotion to 
the political feeling of the time. One song, "The 
Peat Bog Soldiers," was a song that had come out of 



428 



one of the concentration camps in Germany for politicals 
where the inmates worked at cutting peat in, apparently, 
a very harsh climate. And the song, which was somber, 
and yet lively as a marching song, and which was strong, 
gave a sense of men who were prisoners who were doing 
work that was hard and that they certainly didn't want 
to do, but men who had an indomitable will to survive 
and triumph, and they were marching with their heads 
unbowed. And even today when I hear that song I react 
to it. It was during this period that Pete Seeger, 
who has been such a durable figure in our cultural 
scene, first emerged as one of a group that involved 
Woody Guthrie and the Almanac Singers. And his songs 
and the songs of the whole group were emotionally 
affecting . 

GARDNER: Did you know them personally? 

MALTZ : I didn't know any of them at the time. I once 
shook hands with Pete Seeger, but I've never known him. 
The only one I knew of that group, and subsequently, 
was Millard Lampell, and he left singing to do writing. 
But he was the man who wrote the words to "The [Lonesome] 
Train," to which Earl Robinson wrote the music, and 
I knew him. It's very interesting, by the way, that 
Woody Guthrie, about whom a film was made, and who's 
become a symbol of TUnericana in a way, during the 



429 



thirties wrote ... I think it was a daily column, 
or maybe a weekly column, for the People's World 
which was the West Coast Communist party newspaper. 
This period saw the national applause for the "Ballad 
for Americans," first sung by Paul Robeson, a song to 
words by John LaTouche and music by Earl Robinson, and 
was sung at the Republican National Convention in, 
I guess it was, 1936. I've mentioned "The [Lonesome] 
Train," which was, I think, a beautiful work. And 
then there was the song "The House I Live In," to 
which Earl Robinson also wrote the music, and the 
words, interestingly (and I think I may have mentioned 
this earlier) , were written by a man whose pen name 
was Lewis Allan. Lewis Allan also had written the 
words to that terrible and yet beautiful — agonizing 
and yet beautiful — song "Strange Fruit," which Billie 
Holiday made famous. And Lewis Allan's real name 
was Meeropol. Let's pause while I get his first name. 
[tape recorder turned off] Lewis Allan's real name 
was Abel Meeropol, and he and his wife, Anne, were the 
couple who adopted the two children of Julius and 
Ethel Rosenberg after they were executed. And the two 
sons [Michael and Robert] go by the name of Meeropol 
today. I have often thought that there is a great 
novel to be written about that saga of adopting those 



430 



children . 

GARDNER: There have been a couple of novels written 

about the .... 

MALTZ : Yes, there was one, to me slanderous one 

which a great many people like, written by [E. L.] 

Doctorow. What's the name of it? 

GARDNER: I've forgotten. 

MALTZ: Yes, I have it on my shelves. 

GARDNER: The Book of Daniel . 

MALTZ: That's right. The Book of Daniel . I find a 

great many people like it. I don't like it. I think 

it's pretentiously written, and I think it's a slander 

on the children. I think it's disgraceful. 

Now, going on. . . . During this period (I'm now 
specifically thinking of 1938) the terrible struggle 
in Spain continued, and although there wasn't the coverage 
of TV that we had in the Vietnam War, there was intense 
newspaper and magazine coverage. And in addition to 
what one might call regular reporting, a great many 
individuals who were sympathetic to the Loyalists went 
over to Spain and, because they were prominent, were 
given newspaper and magazine space in which to write 
about those events. So that you had reporting by 
Hemingway and Dorothy Parker and Martha Gellhorn and 
Lillian Hellraan and a great many others. I think it 



431 



is accurate to say that rnillions of people in the 
world felt the agony of the Spanish Republican citizens 
trying to defeat fascism against what proved to be 
insuperable odds. In spite of the fact that--oh, 
at the same. . . . There also were a number of films 
made, one of them being The Spanish Earth , which was 
made by Joris Ivens, [who was] a Dutch documentary film- 
maker, and Hemingway, about the struggle. It was a 
most affecting film that was shown quite widely here, 
but of course not in regular commercial outlets. 
Now, in spite of the fact that President Roosevelt, 
seeking the Catholic vote, maintained the policy of 
nonintervention in the civil war, public opinion in 
the United States moved increasingly to the side of 
the Loyalists and for an end to nonintervention. A 
Gallup poll before the end of the war showed 76 percent of 
the American people in favor of lifting the arms 
embargo. Would you shut off for a moment. [tape recorder 
turned off] I 'm quoting now from The Cold War and Its 
Origins by Fleming, page 66 . . . 

GARDNER: Let me stop you a second. [tape recorder 
turned off] 

MALTZ : Quoting from The Cold War and Its Origins , 
page 66, Fleming says that the nonintervention policy 
that Roosevelt followed was to be "the outstanding 



432 



blot on the diplomatic record of the Roosevelt Adminis- 
trations. Former Under Secretary of State Welles wrote 
in his Time for Decision that it was 'the cardinal 
error' of the long Roosevelt-Hull conduct of our foreign 
affairs — 'of all our blind isolationist policies, the 
most disastrous.'" Fleming continues: "Certainly 
it was a blunder which tied the United States in deeply 
with the policy of steady surrender to fascist conquests. 
With our aid the sacrifice of the Spanish people was 
nullified and they were restored to the ruthless rule 
of the old regime." I might say that it became increasingly 
clear to, let's say, us on the Left who agreed with the 
thinking of the Communist party that the struggle in 
Spain was a prelude to World War II. 

In addition to the songs of the period and the 
films like Spanish Earth , there were various speakers 
who came back from the front and toured the country 
raising funds. One of them was an English novelist, 
Ralph Bates, who had been a political commissar with 
the British volunteers to the Republican side, and he 
was an astonishing orator--one of the greatest I have 
ever heard. I remember an evening at Carnegie Hall, 
with every seat taken, in which he spoke for about 
two hours without pause on all of the questions involved 
in the war, and it was an overwhelming experience. 



433 



It turned out several months later that Bates needed 
a place to stay, and this came to the attention of 
Margaret and myself, and we invited him to sleep on a 
couch that we had in our dining room. He moved in, 
and about a week later a girl moved in with him, and 
the two seemed to make out comfortably on this small 
couch and were there for about three months. It was, 
of course, a tremendous experience for me to have 
breakfast with him every morning and talk over events. 

A second speaker was an American woman who had 
been a nurse on the Madrid front. Her name was Lini 
DeVries. She came back early in 1938 to raise funds 
for ambulances and medical aid, and I met her at that 
time. I mention it now because our lives touched a 
good deal subsequently, and we have been friends ever 
since . 

During this period the British and the French 
continued their appeasement of German fascism in the 
rest of Europe. Twice in the fall of 1937 Hitler told 
the British ambassador that the first and last German 
objective was unification with Austria. Meanwhile 
the Soviet delegate to the League of Nations, [Maxim] 
Litvinov, kept pleading for collective security against 
fascism. The French and the British ignored him. On 



434 



March 7, 1938, Chamberlain, the British premier, said 
the following in Parliament: "We must not try to delude 
small and weak nations into thinking that they will be 
protected by the League," (meaning the League of Nations), 
"against aggression." 

Almost at once, German troops marched into Austria. 
"Marched into Austria" is just a phrase, but for us 
at the time it was a matter of day-to-day radio and 
newspaper and magazine information about concrete events 
of a dreadful nature: the establishment of concen- 
tration camps for left-wingers, with all of the ferocious 
brutality within the barbed wire perimeters that we now 
knew about from the work of Billinger and others; the 
desperate efforts of Jews to leave the country, in most 
cases fruitless efforts because of doors closed to them 
in other countries; the swastika appearing everywhere; 
the Brownshirts; the book burnings; the dismissal 
of Jewish and left-wing academicians from all schools, 
universities, and institutes, and so on. We of that 
generation lived with this barbarism day by day--felt 
it, hated it, abominated it. These events could not 
but bind me and others closer to the Soviet Union because 
of its steady efforts to achieve collective security 
to stop fascism and also because of its position against 
anti-Semitism. 



435 



I think this is perhaps a good moment to say something 
about this, especially since the anti-Semitism now 
present in the Soviet Union is manifested in various 
ways. This is a change from the Soviet Union in its 
earlier days. One of the first acts of Lenin after 
the Bolsheviks took power was to make a Victrola record 
in which he attacked anti-Semitism and explained its 
political uses by reactionaries in Russia. The old 
Bolsheviks knew very well that anti-Semitism had been used 
by the czarist establishment as a means of diverting the 
Russian people from their own woes . And the Soviet 
Union in its early years and, I think, right up through 
World War II, was singularly free from anti-Semitism as 
compared to czarist Russia. In fact it was a crime 
punishable by imprisonment to express anti-Semitic 
attitudes. I won't try to go into the reasons why this 
changed from the years since the end of World War II 
until now, but it has changed. Certainly the Soviet Union 
is not today anti-Semitic in the way in which Hitler's 
Germany was — light years away from that. Nevertheless 
there are marked expressions of anti-Semitism there. 
However, in the thirties this wasn't so, and it was 
therefore a powerful contrast to the policies of fascism. 

It was during 1938 that the League of American 
Writers, on which I continued to function as a member 



436 



of the executive board, established a committee to aid 
exiled writers and raised funds and used all influence 
it had to bring them safely to the United States. I 
remember I wrote something for the league on this issue. 
I no longer recall what it was, but I presume it was some 
sort of public statement that the league gave out. This 
committee helped bring a good niomber of writers to this 
country . 

During this same period my own writing progressed 
in the marketplace. I wrote a short story "The Happiest 
Man on Earth" which was published by Harper ' s magazine 
and was reprinted in the annual anthology called O ' Henry 
Memorial Award Prize Stories . It received first prize 
for the year 1938, and it got all the more attention 
because the second prize was won by Richard Wright and 
the third by John Steinbeck. And I might say that the 
$300 that came with the prize was very happily received 
by me at that time. [laughter] 
GARDNER: I'm sure. 

MALTZ: Yes. I don't know what that $300 would come 
to today; maybe it would be $3,000, 
GARDNER: Probably. 

MALTZ: But that's the way it felt, I'm sure. That 
short story has since been very widely reprinted. Let's 
find out how much. [tape recorder turned off] That 



437 



story has been reprinted some eighty times since its 
first publication, and the reprintings continue. 

I finished a one-act play called Rehearsal , which 
received amateur productions and was published in 
One-Act Play magazine. And a long one-act play, Transit , 
was written by my friend Philip Stevenson, which was a 
dramatization of my novelette "Season of Celebration," 
and this received quite a number of amateur productions. 

During that year I published a first volume of 
short stories. The Way Things Are . I think it merits 
a personal comment. I think it was just a sense of 
inferiority on my part that made me say yes to an offer 
by International Publishers to publish a volume of my 
stories instead of my seeking a regular publisher. 
Now, by "regular" I mean one of the publishing houses 
that was in the mainstream of American publishing and 
published materials of every sort. International 
Publishers was the Communist publishing house. Its 
materials were almost exclusively books on Marxism or 
books written by authors whose position was a Marxist 
one. And as I look back, it just seems incomprehensible 
on my part, and perhaps even more incomprehensible on 
the part of my agent, to have agreed to give a book 
of stories to this publishing house. Perhaps if I 
had already received the 0' Henry Memorial Award before 
I arranged for the book publication I might not have 



438 



done it. In any instance, I did do so, and it's a 
comment on what I was personally at that time--which 
is a quite different man than I am today. Now we'll 
pause and I'll get some reviews. 
GARDNER: Okay. [tape recorder turned off] 
MALTZ: Alfred Kazin, writing in the New York Tribune 
on July 24, 1938, said: "Albert Maltz's favorite 
subject is pain--the appearance of pain, the conditions 
of pain. Yet it is because he writes out of a hot, 
lacerated fury that never raises to a scream that these 
few stories are so burningly effective." The New York 
Post on July 20: "Albert Maltz is one of the best and 
most considerable of the proletarian writers, and his 
short stories, including the novella 'Season of Celebration,' 
have been highly praised ... a collection called 
The Way Things Are deals with the woes of the under- 
privileged and downtrodden and with much more art 
than is usual in books of this character." Harry 
Hansen in the World-Telegram , July 19: "Albert Maltz 
is a thirty-year-old playwright whose short stories 
are vivid proof that proletarian fiction is marching on. 
Lots of us have heard of Bowery flop houses, but no 
one has seen the inside of one until he reads Maltz's 
'Season of Celebration,' the first of eight short stories 
that make up his book. The spectacle of these broken 



439 



men and jobless youths paying their dimes and quarters 
into Baldy White's chicken-wire cage to get a place 
to sleep shows with what a keen eye Albert Maltz sizes 
up the unfortunates of city life." 

I would say that other reviews went along in this 
vein, but there was one that was rather different, and 
that was by Fred R. Miller in the New Republic , 
August 17, 1938: "Proletarians have their fun as well as 
their hard knocks, but you never would suspect it 
reading these eight stories. Disease, degradation, 
death--if there were nothing else to the proletarian 
lot there would by this year of capitalism be no prole- 
tariat for Maltz to write about. Such a preoccupation 
with the black is unwholesome, obsessive, defeating 
its own purpose. For while the sympathy poured out 
over the underdog is genuine enough and open to respect, 
anyone who has ever been one himself must find this 
group portrait of sad underdogs lopsided and, that 
being so, atypical. So the idea is not to read the 
book at one fell sitting. Collectively, the stories 
have an exasperating sameness of tone; but individually, 
they move you, if you can be readily moved, and one of 
them, 'Man on a Road' is, to quote the literary editor, 
'absolutely first rate. The best story the New Masses 
ever printed. ' " 



440 



Now, I think that this critic had an important 
comment to make. The title of the book was The Way 
Things Are and he was saying, looked at as a whole , 
this isn ' t the way things are, and he was right. 
Today if I used that title on a book, I would want the 
volume to have many different facets. And mine did 
not. I might say in passing that the fact that a book 
published by International got the reviews that my 
short stories did is a comment on the temper of the 
times. In the year 1938 in the United States there 
was infinitely more hospitality to a book published by 
the Left than there was to be in subsequent years. 
And I was to find that out in the sixties, as I will 
mention when I come to it. 

Again, a literary point--there is always a lag 
between writing and publication: in the case of a 
short story, from two to six months or longer; in the 
case of a novel, eight months to a year. So when I 
speak of a volume of stories coming out like The Way 
Things Are in July 1938, it means that the volume 
was completed at least by November 1937. During 1938 
I was working on my first novel. The Underground Stream , 
which was published in June 1940. This means it was 
completed by October 1939. And I just mention that for 
general understanding. 



441 



GARDNER: That's interesting too from the point of 
view of someone who is trying to write or who is 
writing material that's timely. 

MALTZ : Oh, yes. That's a really important point. 
Because I sometimes have had people come to me and 
say, "I'm so excited about such-and-such material. 
It's got to be written about. Somebody has to say 
so-and-so, and I'm going to do it." And I would say, 
"Now, look, how long do you think it will take you to 
do it? Will it take maybe six months with rewriting? 
Okay, six months. And then it's going to take any- 
where from eight to twelve months to publish it if you get 
a publisher. So if you add six to six to eight in order 
to be conservative, you're talking about twenty months. 
What's going to happen to this situation? Will it be 
in anybody's mind twenty months from now?" 
GARDNER: Right, 

MALTZ: That's a tremendously important thing. And 
furthermore, one always hopes that something you write 
will have some life to it, that it will be read a little 
longer than the day after you publish it. 
GARDNER: Right. 

MALTZ: So what's going to interest people? And that's 
where the desire to comment on immediate situations is 
a trap for a writer. 



442 



GARDNER: Right. There's got to be a more general 
point of view--a timelessness rather than a timeliness. 
MALTZ : That's right. I want to make mention of what 
I would call the gambler's aspect of a writer's life, 
and of the earnings of writers. A professional person 
of competence has financial security in a great many 
fields over a large portion of his adult life. (I'm 
assuming now that I 'm talking about a country with a 
certain modicum of economic stability, the way the 
United States has been in all but the thirties.) For 
instance, an attorney, physician, an engineer, accountant, 
a business executive, a librarian, a civil servant, an 
educator, a newspaperman in general will, as they go 
along in their profession from youth to middle age, 
earn more and will have a general sense of stability in 
their job. A competent physician could certainly expect 
to have a going practice at the age of fifty, fifty-five, 
and sixty. None of this is true of the free-lance 
writer — that is, a novelist, playwright, a short-story 
writer, a writer of articles. And it is even less true 
by far of the poet. The writer's economic life and his 
work satisf actions--both of them are closely akin to those 
of a gambler. (Now, in parentheses I would say that this 
is also true to an even greater extent of the fine arts — 
that is, of painting and sculpture. It's also true in 



443 



theater and film for actors, directors, and set designers. 
But I will deal here only with writers.) The best-sellers 
and the enormous sums of money made by a sprinkling of 
writers who've hit the jackpot is no indication whatsoever 
of the economic realities of 95 percent of writers. For this 
reason professional writers who have been published 
often, who have been celebrated because of their work, 
also need to teach, write for TV or radio or for movies 
or for advertising agencies, need to give lectures, and 
work at an infinite variety of other jobs. 

There are tremendous ups and downs, both in income 
and in work satisfaction, for writers. For instance, I 
recall that in 1937, unable to pay the modest phone bills 
that I had (which probably at that time amounted to no 
more than about ten dollars a month) , I had the phone 
removed from my apartment. I made business calls from 
a phone on the ground floor of the building, and it was 
not easy for anybody to reach me. But about ten days 
later, a story sold and I was able to put the phone back. 
In the summer of 1938 when I was in Las Vegas, New Mexico, 
I was unable to see anything of the surrounding countryside 
because I didn't have a car. And this was a great shame 
because close by Las Vegas was beautiful country, and 
quite close were cities, towns like Taos and Santa Fe 
and so on. In Las Vegas at that time mail was delivered 



444 



on the Fourth of July, and on that day I had a check 
for about $900 from the Book-of-the-Month Club selection 
of The Flying Yorkshireman . As a result, we were able to 
get a car and see things that were part of important 
experiences for me. Now, in terms of work satisfaction, 
a lawyer, a librarian, an educator, and so on can note 
daily that he has done work that is of value; but even a 
Eugene O'Neill wrote plays that were never put on stage. 
To labor for weeks over a story and have it rejected, 
and for years over a novel and have it unpublished, or 
perhaps published and then to have it drop like a stone 
in a well--which is what happens to most novels--is 
very discouraging. 



445 



TAPE NUMBER: XII, SIDE ONE 
OCTOBER 3, 1978 

GARDNER: We were talking about the vagaries of the 

writer . 

MALTZ : The free-lance writer's life. It takes fortitude 

to go on to the next story and the next novel. Most 

writers, even those with considerable reputations, 

produce all of their lives without having a novel that's 

commercially successful in a big or even a medium way. 

I have had literary work published in over thirty languages; 

but I could not have lived down the years or supported 

a family on my earnings from it. I've had to supplement 

it, and this is the only reason I've spent the years I 

have working on screenplays. Yet there is another side 

to a writer's life that is a most important counterbalance 

to all of the problems that I've been mentioning: his 

work is never monotonous, never repetitive, never dull, 

never without challenge. Each day's work demands the 

maximum use of whatever talent he has, and there are 

daily satisfactions in pages written, even though the 

wait may be long for the work to be completed and published. 

And there's always a dream that a serious author has: 

that his work will live and will be read in the future. 

I know that I am very pleased that my novel The Cross 



446 



and the Arrow has been constantly in print in one or 
more countries since it was first published thirty-five 
years ago. And naturally I hope that this will continue. 
I think if I had a second life to live, I might decide 
to become a historian because the study of history has 
interested me so much. But I think if I had a third life 
to live, I'd go back again to being a writer. The good 
balances out the bad. But it is a gambler's life. 

And a little footnote to all of this is a story about 
the very, very able novelist Meyer Levin. He wrote a novel 
called Citizens which he completed in the year 1939 and, 
like some other authors--Edna St. Vincent Millay being 
one of them--he had only one copy of it, and he left it 
in a taxicab and never could get it again. So he sat 
down, having spent two years in the writing of it, and 
spent another year rewriting it. And it was published 
on the day that Germany invaded the Low Countries and 
France, and consequently nobody read any book reviews 
and the book died instantly. 

In the summer of 1938 when my wife and I went to 
Las Vegas, we found that the nurse, Lini DeVries, we had 
listened to as a speaker on Spain was now working in 
that town. She was working for the U.S. Public Health 
Service. Since I went with her on one of her days of 
work, I would like to mention the extraordinarily fine 



447 



work that the U.S. Public Health Service v/as doing 
at that time in New Mexico. 

Outside of Las Vegas there's hill country, and 
the farmers who live in those areas are descendants of 
the Mexicans who had been living there in 1848 when 
the territory changed hands. They were illiterate in 
both languages. Lini took me to one village where, 
before the U.S. Public Health Service came in, there 
had been fifty child deaths in one summer from dysentery, 
the reason being that the people used to drink water 
from the irrigation ditches in which their cattle 
defecated. They had no knowledge whatsoever of elemen- 
tary sanitation. The Public Health Service would 
send in a team with a film and with a microscope. The 
film would be a short education in the nature of microbes, 
and they would scoop some water out of the irrigation 
ditch and put it under the microscope and let every 
adult and child who wanted to take a look at what was 
swimming in the water that they were drinking. And 
they could then make the connection between what the 
film had told them and the realities of their lives. As 
a result, they cooperated at once in digging wells and 
in screening their homes from flies and in recognizing 
that the fly was an enemy of theirs. By doing this, 
in one year the child deaths from dysentery went from fifty 
down to two . 



448 



An essential requirement for the Public Health 
nurses working in these villages was to get the cooperation 
of the local priests and the local midwives; without that 
they could make no headway whatsoever. But they found 
that with the proper approach they got very warm cooperation. 
The midwives, for instance, were often very skilled in 
basic knowledge; but what they didn't know about were drops 
to put in the babies ' eyes to prevent them from getting 
gonorrhea if one of their parents had it. So once it 
was established by the Public Health nurse that she 
was no danger to the functioning of the midwife and 
to the income of the midwife, then the midwife was very 
glad to accept these drops. And so on. 

Another function of the Public Health nurses, and the 
doctors who came from time to time, was to find out which 
of the people had syphilis, which was apparently rather 
endemic in the area, and to have them come into Las Vegas 
once a week for shots. This became a rather gay expedition 
in which many of the young folks every week went in a truck 
to Las Vegas and had their shots and didn't think anything 
of it because so many people had need for the same. In 
spite of this vast improvement, I remember going into one 
small house with Lini on a day that was intensely hot and 
finding a woman in a spick-and-span house with a very young 
infant whom she had wrapped in layers of blankets and had 



449 



placed in front of a roaring hot fire. Why she did 
this, I have no knowledge--evidently thinking that the 
infant needed it to survive. But of course the child 
had prickly heat, and Lini persuaded the woman that it 
didn't need all of these covers. 

In the fall of 1938 my wife and I moved to a very 
pleasant area in Queens called Sunnyside because that 
was where we could have a small balcony on which to put 
our young son, and it would be a pleasanter area for a 
child to grow up than where we had been living in Manhattan. 
During this period my teaching expanded. I now had a larger 
class for beginners and two workshops for those who had 
produced writing that merited their going on. The statis- 
tical chances of there being genuinely talented people 
from a classroom of hopeful writers is not too large; 
but a number of writers did emerge from my classes-- 
one who's a moderately successful TV writer today and . . . 
GARDNER: What's his name? 

MALTZ : His name is Alfred Brenner. And one whom I had 
a great desire to help who was a gentle. New Jersey 
minister who wrote one-act plays solely designed for 
church productions, and who was doing it primarily to 
supplement his meager salary by the small royalties that 
he would get with each production. And I gave him a 
good deal of time in private sessions to try and help 



450 



him along the way because he touched me very much. 

One very interesting character who was in my 
classes was Dr. Maxwell Maltz, the man who became celebrated 
for writing books on cybernetics--emotional [ Psycho - 
Cybernetics ] cybernetics, I guess. He was a very successful 
plastic surgeon and, I believe, a very skilled one, 
from certain references I have seen to his work. And he 
had the idea for a very interesting play based upon the 
life of an Italian physician who could properly be called 
the first plastic surgeon. His calling came about because 
he learned how to repair the noses and faces and ears of 
men who had been in sword fights. And some of the instru- 
ments, the surgical instruments that he devised to do this, 
are still in basic use today or in modified use. Also, 
this man was hailed before the Inquisition on the grounds 
that by repairing faces that had been injured he was 
interfering with the laws of God. And I don't particularly 
remember the outcome of the trial, but it formed an impor- 
tant part of the play. 

I spent a great deal of time with Maxwell Maltz 
(and we became friends in the course of it) in an effort to 
get that play right, but he never did get it right so far 
as I was concerned. However, he got it put on himself 
some years later and it was not a success. (I learned 
from friends that he used to introduce himself as my cousin 



451 



in the years before he himself published his work on 
cybernetics; but he stopped calling himself my cousin 
when I got into political trouble later.) 

We come now to the most terrible moment in the 
year 1938, which was the Munich Pact signed on the 
thirtieth of September. That day and that pact absolutely 
set the stage for World War II. As I mentioned earlier, 
in the fall of 1937 Hitler had told the British ambassador 
that incorporating Austria into Germany was his first 
and last objective. However, very shortly after he got 
his way in this, he began to raise demands about ethnic 
Germans who allegedly were being persecuted in the Sudeten 
border provinces of Czechoslovakia. In actual fact, these 
Sudeten Germans enjoyed all rights of other citizens in 
Czechoslovakia and were not being oppressed at all. The 
Sudeten region had tremendous fortifications on the 
Czech side that, later, German generals said they could 
not have taken at that time. In addition, the Sudeten 
region had 66 percent of the nation's coal, 80 percent 
of its lignite, 86 percent of its chemicals, 80 percent 
of its cement, 80 percent of its textiles, 70 percent of 
its iron and steel, 70 percent of its electrical power 
and 40 percent of its timber. We can begin to under- 
stand why Hitler was suddenly weeping over the condition 
of the Sudeten Germans. 



452 



With a series of increasing demands Hitler finally 
arrived at the insistence that the Sudeten borderlands 
had to be ceded by Czechoslovakia to Germany. Now 
Czechoslovakia, which had a well-trained army beside 
these fortifications, also had a military alliance 
with the Soviet Union and France obligating the latter 
two countries to come to its defense if attacked. 
I 'm not going to recite the history of events here that 
led up to Munich. They will be found very succinctly 
related in volume 1 of The Origins of the Cold War 
by Fleming or in greater detail in The Rise and Fall 
of the Third Reich by William Shirer and many other 
books. But a summation is needed. 

The dominant wing of the British establishment 
headed by Chamberlain tried constantly to push Germany 
toward a war with Russia. It was completely willing to 
have Germany get not only the Sudetenland but Czecho- 
slovakia as a whole. The dominant wing of the French 
establishment wanted the same. Both therefore made 
clear to Czechoslovakia — Oh, the French establishment 
therefore made clear to Czechoslovakia that it would 
repudiate its military alliance unless the Czechs gave in 
to the German demands. The Germans threatened to march, 
and the British and French ambassadors told the Czech 
president, [Eduard] Benes, that Hungary and Poland would 



453 



also attack them. So although Russia had stood by its 
alliance and said it would fight, the Czech government 
gave in. German troops took over at once 11,000 square 
miles of territory, the tremendous fortifications and 
all of the industrial and mineral wealth I mentioned 
earlier, Poland and Hungary also got slices of Czecho- 
slovakia. This was the immediate effect of Munich. 

I recall that month of September as one in which 
there were days in which I, as one of millions, turned on 
the radio half a dozen times to hear any new scrap of news 
We prayed that the Czechs would not give in because we 
knew what would follow. And it did. World War II 
followed. In the spring of the next year a tragic 
documentary film of these Czech events was played in 
New York. The man who had made it was Hans Burger. The 
film was called Crisis . I became friends with Burger 
and will tell about him later in my narrative. 

However, Hitler, having promised that Germany had 
no interest in having any Czech under his authority, 
on March 15, 1939, five and a half months after Munich, 
sent his troops marching into Czechoslovakia as a whole. 
Thirteen days after this German, Italian, and Spanish 
fascist troops took over Madrid, and the Republican 
struggle of three years was at a bloody end. Fascist 
firing squads then took over and tens of thousands were 



454 



executed summarily in cities, towns, and villages 
throughout the areas formerly held by the Republicans. 
I want to discuss now the growth of anti-Semitic movements 
in the United States. Maybe we can pause for a moment. 
Itape recorder turned off] 

Now, I want to talk about the rise of the anti-Semitic 
movement in the United States in those years. From the 
time that fascism first took power in Germany, one of 
its main exports was anti-Semitism. This led to the growth 
of anti-Semitic movements in most countries in the world. 
Historically, anti-Semitism is one of the most potent 
political weapons ever invented. Since Jews have been 
dispersed over a great part of the world, it has been 
a ready tool for reactionary political leaders in many 
countries. It has the great value of blinding persons 
to the reality around them. The Jew becomes the source 
of all problems and calamities. The United States was 
not free of anti-Semitism in various forms before Hitler 
came to power. But there's a vast difference between 
anti-Semitic attitudes that may be held by certain 
individuals and anti-Semitism as a political policy, as 
an organized banner. In the United States dozens and 
dozens of anti-Semitic groups, anti-Semitic and profascist, 
sprang up after Hitler came to power. In a pamphlet 
published by the League of American Writers which had 



455 



a-- There was a partial list of anti-Semitic publishers 

and individuals in America, and this partial list had 

135 names on it. Weekly newspapers came into being. 

Tens of thousands of anti-Semitic leaflets were distributed 

every month. Public rallies were held. The leading 

groups were the German-American Bund, Gerald L.K. Smith's 

group, one led by William Dudley Pelley called the 

Christian American Crusade, and the movement headed by 

a Catholic priest. Father [Charles Edward] Coughlin. 

[tape recorder turned off] 

For instance, in a New York State gubernatorial 

campaign around the year 1938, I believe, the following 

leaflet was distributed widely among railroad workers 

by their foremen: "Don't vote for [Herbert Henry] 

Lehman. The Communists are voting for him because he 

is a Jew." I'm now reading from something I myself 

wrote that I will identify later: 

We see the basic methodology of anti-Semitism 
expertly applied. The railroad workers are 
among the lowest paid in average of all indus- 
trial groups in America since they suffer from 
a short working year. At the same time it is 
impossible for them to apply for relief since 
they are classed as workers at jobs. Obviously 
their economic situation is serious, and acute 
discontent is widespread among them. 

Oh, no, I'm sorry, that isn't the quote I wanted, dammit. 

Now I have it. All right: 

This is the invariable purpose of anti- 
Semitic campaigns: to divide the mass 

456 



of people; to divert the wrath of discontented 
sections of the population from the true causes 
of their misery; to blur in all instances the 
nature and anatomy of economic crises; and to 
mobilize the population in support of the pro- 
gram of the reactionaries who are conducting 
the anti-Semitic campaign in the first place. 

Father Coughlin was the most dangerous of all of the 
anti-Semitic agitators. He had a Sunday night radio 
program which had 40 million listeners. And he was a 
most powerfully affecting orator. He published a maga- 
zine called Social Justice in which the anti-Semitism was 
much more blatant and vicious than he dared express 
himself on radio, and increasingly the sale of his 
magazine on the streets of New York and other cities began 
to take on the quality of the Nazi Brownshirts in Germany 
selling their written materials before the taking of power. 
There would be a little group of men around the salesmen 
making anti-Semitic remarks at any person who passed whom 
they deemed to be Jewish. They were street bullies ready 
for physical violence. 

Out of great concern about this development, both for 
political and personal reasons, I did some special research 
on the subject of anti-Semitism, and I was part of a small 
seminar led by a Jewish Communist scholar on the subject. 
In 1939 the League of American Writers published a pamphlet-- 
or, I'd say, a brochure, not a pamphlet — a brochure of 
125 pages called We Hold These Truths . It included statements 



457 



on anti-Semitism by fifty-four leading American writers, 
statesmen, educators, clergymen, and trade unionists, and 
the proceeds from the sale of the brochure were donated to 
exiled antifascist writers. Among those making statements 
whose names would be meaningful today were Theodore Dreiser, 
Ruth Benedict, Van Wyck Brooks, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 
Justice Robert H. Jackson, Dorothy Thompson, Tom Mooney, 
and many more. There was an introduction of some twelve 
pages to the brochure which was written anonymously by me. 
GARDNER: Why did you do it anonymously? 
MALTZ: Oh, because . . . [sound interference — tape 
recorder turned off] I wrote it anonymously because it was 
requested that I do so, and the request was sound since 
this was going to be a brochure to which many people 
contributed, and these many people had not selected me 
to be their spokesman in analyzing the total phenomenon 
of anti-Semitism. And so it was just thought proper that 
it should be just an introduction as though written by the 
league. I think that was right. 

A little later, or about this time, I had occasion to 
drive down to Philadelphia with my friend George Sklar for 
production of some play, perhaps a play of ours, in 
Philadelphia and while there heard that anti-Semitic leaflets 
had been showered on the city from an airplane only the 
day before. This was a last straw for me, emotionally. 



458 



in propelling me toward an activity that could combat 
this sort of thing more efficiently than anything that 
I personally had done up until now. 

I no longer recall how exactly those of us who 
founded the magazine called Equality got together, but I 
do know that it happened very quickly. One of the other 
founders with myself was a scholar I knew by the name of 
Albert Deutsch. He was a historian who had given me my 
first instruction on how to use a library for historical 
research. During the forties he became a columnist on the 
New York Post on matters of medicine and public health 
issues and became very widely read and very popular. A 
second man, who I believe I had previously met, was 
Nathan Ausubel, who had been a volunteer soldier in the 
Jewish Legion in General Allenby's army that entered 
Jerusalem in 1917. He was a man of letters and subsequently 
edited three volumes of Jewish poetry, folklore, and humor. 
There was Harold Coy, a free-lance journalist and a 
southern WASP, as I believe, and Leo Schwartz, a scholar 
in Jewish culture. I know that founding the magazine took 
a great deal of my time and that I went with others to 
see people to raise money and that when we came to our 
first issue, I wrote quite a number of things anonymously 
for it: the prospectus to get support and raise money, and 
to do all of those things that are involved in starting a 



459 



magazine. On our masthead for the first issue, which 
came out in May 1939, we listed an editorial council 
that included, among others. Professor Franz Boas 
(the anthropologist) , Bennett Cerf (the publisher) , 
Dashiell Hammett, Moss Hart, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy 
Parker, and Prince Hubertus zu Loewenstein. (I pause to 
say that Prince Loewenstein was an antifascist Catholic 
German in exile in the United States who worked earnestly 
and diligently for all antifascist causes during that time. 
I came to have a good deal of respect for him.) 

I wrote three of the editorials of the first issue, 
anonymously of course. They were "To All People of Goodwill" 
and "Peace or War" and "Equality Is Not Divisible." We did 
a good thing in distributing our first issue. The first 
printing was 5,000 copies, as I recall, and we hired 
unemployed seamen and longshoremen to stand next to 
every seller of a Coughlin magazine in the central area 
of Manhattan and sell them alongside of that individual, 
with some friends around if protection was necessary. As 
a result, the first printing was sold out immediately, and 
our first issue ended up with a total sale of 20,000 copies. 
GARDNER: Terrific. 

MALTZ : Yes, it was an important achievement because people 
were able to rally around it and say Coughlin does not 
own the streets. 



460 



I will mention that the issues of Equality were 
collected and published due to the efforts of Professor 
Jack Salzman of Hofstra University and were issued 
by the Greenwood Reprint Corporation in 1970. [phone rings- 
tape recorder turned off] 

I 'm now reading from the introduction by Professor 

Salzman to the bound publication of the copies of Equality : 

In October 1939 Equality published its most 
important and influential piece: "The Christian 
Front and the Catholic Church: an Open Letter 
to Archbishop Spellman." 

(The latter was the archbishop of New York City.) 

The open letter asserted that the Christian 
Front movement in New York, following the 
leadership of Father Coughlin, served a double 
function. 

And now he quotes Equality : 

"It is first a membership organization 
formed along semimilitary lines limited 
to men over eighteen years of age; and 
second, a coordinated center for a united 
front of various anti-Semitic, fascist 
and Nazi groups in this city." 

Salzman continued: 

Spellman never bothered to reply to the 
open letter. On January 14, 1940, seven- 
teen members of the Christian Front were 
placed under federal arrest in New York 
for plotting to overthrow the government. 
Father Coughlin disavowed any association 
with the group and expressed the hope 
that J. Edgar Hoover would substantiate 
every contention made. It was the open 
letter that most clearly exposed the 
corruption of the Christian Front and 
Coughlinism. Not only did the Nation, 



461 



the New York Post , and several left-wing 
organizations join in the attack against 
Coughlin but so too did the Churchman 
and Commonweal . 

I'd like to pause to insert my own comment here that one 

of the factors in every aspect of human life, not only 

political, but every aspect, is that if an individual 

or a group speaks up, it brings others to rally around 

and speak up as well. Certainly the Nation is and has 

always been a fine magazine, and yet here we find that 

this little magazine that we established, and in which 

we hammered what we had to say about Coughlinism, brought 

the Nation and the New York Post and the Protestant 

Churchman and the Catholic Commonweal to come forward 

in ways they had not previously. Going on, Salzman 

says: 

In 1941 Cardinal Mooney* ordered Coughlin 
to cease his broadcasts and to end publi- 
cation of Social Justice . . . The extent 
to which Equality can be credited with the 
demise of the Coughlin terror obviously 
cannot be accurately gauged, but that it 
was an important instrument in silencing 
the radio priest is beyond doubt. And if 
for this reason alone, it was an invaluable 
publication . 

GARDNER: How long did publication continue? 

MALTZ : Publication of Equality continued-- Its last issue 

was, I think, October/November of 1939 — wait a minute . . , 

was it '39 or '40? 1940. Yes, October/November 1940. 



* Edward Mooney was appointed cardinal in 1946--Ed. 



462 



But then it kind of merged into being another magazine; 

but as such it ended in 1940. 

GARDNER: Did you retain the editorship throughout? 

MALTZ: Yes, I was an editor throughout. And I gave 

a great deal of time to it. It's another example of 

why I, with my particular emotional chemistry, let's 

say, spent so much time on organizational work rather 

than on writing in those years. Nobody told me to do 

this; it was my own concern. 

GARDNER: Were you involved in the fund raising as 

well? 

MALTZ: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. 

GARDNER: How did the magazine do. Did it. . . ? 

MALTZ: Well, you know, none of us who worked on it-- 

There were a couple of people who were paid who were 

full-time office workers, but none of us, of the people 

like myself, got money from it; we just gave money to it. 

GARDNER: Did it break even? Or did it lose money over 

the period that you were involved? 

MALTZ: No. I think it broke even. I no longer remember 

its finances. Maybe it didn't break even. We got some 

ads. Maybe we just kept on raising money, but we got it. 

Well, of course I don't remember that we ended with any 

debts to anybody particularly. 

GARDNER: Who absorbed it afterwards? You said it 

became . . . ? 



463 



MALTZ : I know that the current magazine which I pre- 
sently read called Jewish Currents somehow was tied 
to it, but not directly; I think there was another 
magazine in between. I'm not sure. It's lost in time. 
Oh, in the course of it--I say, in the course of publishing 
Equality we got quite a number of people to write for 
it. For instance, in our first issue Dr. Fosdick, who 
was a very well-known Protestant pastor in New York, 
Lewis Lawes, v;ho was warden of Sing Sing, Dorothy Thompson, 
were in our first issue. If I pick at random an issue 
of August 1939, well, none of the names would be known 
today, although they were at that time. That's an 
important difference. For instance, Donald Ogden Stewart 
was a real name, and I don't think he is very well known 
today by, let's say the current generation. 
GARDNER: But by book collectors? 

MALTZ: Or here in Equality , in October 1939: Albert 
Gerard, leading professor of comparative literature at 
Stanford University, Meyer Levin, the novelist; artists 
who contributed: William Cropper, Birnbaum, and so on. 



464 



TAPE NUMBER: XII, SIDE TWO 
OCTOBER 3, 1978 

GARDNER: You are continuing to thumb through Equality . 
MALTZ : Yes, I'm interested to see that in an issue of 
January 1940, there's an article "Justice for the Foreign- 
born" by Ernest Hemingway and W. A, Neilson; "End Lynching" 
by Walter White, who was head of the NAACP; "Lindbergh's 
Tailspin" by Emil Lengyel, who was a very well-known 
foreign correspondent; and an editorial, "The Strange 
Friends of Congressman Dies: An Exposure," and so on. 
Well, I think now I'll move on from Equality . 

During 1939 I did a number of other items of fugitive, 
anonymous writing--f ugitive or anonymous writing. One 
was a book review of Ruth McKenney's fine book Industrial 
Valley for the New Masses , and I will mention her. Ruth 
McKenney and her husband, whose name was Richard Bransten 
and who had the pen name of Bruce Minton as an editor of 
the New Masses , were friends of mine. Her "My Sister 
Eileen" stories in the New Yorker had been very popular 
and were made into a very successful Broadway comedy. 
And she was an interesting personality because on the one 
hand [she was] writing the light and amusing material she 
did; on the other hand, she combined it with open membership 
in the Communist party. And I will mention something 
that transpired later in the forties with them. 



465 



I observe that I wrote something for the Drama 
Festival Bulletin of Union College, the Mohawk Drama 
Festival, called "The New Trend in the American Theater." 
I remember going up to Union College and making a speech 
to some outdoor gathering where others also made speeches, 
but now I no longer remember why or how I got there, 
[laughter] And I published a story in the New Masses 
called "A Gentleman and His Son," which got one reprint 
in England and then expired as a story. 

In the summer of 1939 I spent three weeks in Boulder, 
at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, at 
something called the Writing Conference in the Rocky 
Mountains. Most assuredly I did it, interrupting the 
rewrite of my first novel, because of the fee paid, and 
I don't recall now whether it was $300 or $500. But I 
know that I went there sitting up in a train all night in 
order to save the cost of a berth and once there, of course, 
did my best to be of value to the students . An English 
poet was the head of the conference. His name was 
Edward Davidson, a man of great charm and one who said 
something that I will never forget. One night after having 
listened to him on quite a number of nights in which he 
talked marvelously about a host of different subjects, 
I asked him why he didn't write some of these things in 
a book. And he laughed and said candidly, "Well, you know, 



466 



I've talked my life away." And I've never forgotten it 
because I think this is true of a certain number of 
talented people. 

A man who was teaching there at the same time was 
Eric Knight, whom I have already mentioned in discussing 
The Flying Yorkshireman . We became good friends, and 
his death several years later was very painful to me. 
I think I may not have mentioned that he wrote a best- 
selling novel during the war called This Above All about 
England under the bombing. He went as a journalist in 
a plane carrying other journalists to the Teheran Conference, 
and the plane went down over a South American country . . . 
and his talent was cut off. 

A second member of the faculty was Norman Corwin, for 
whom I had enormous admiration because of his stunning 
work as a radio poet-dramatist, and we have remained friends. 
Still another was Carl Van Doren, who came only for about 
a week, as I recall, but with whom I had the opportunity 
of conversation during an all-day automobile ride. Having 
known his younger brother as a student, it was of interest 
to me to see in the older brother the same calm, thoughtful, 
and friendly personality that Mark Van Doren had. I think 
they were both remarkable human beings. 

A final member of the faculty whom I will mention was 
a professor of English from Union College, Surges Johnson. 
I often think of him as representative of many thousands 



467 



like hiin whose name and work are likely to be forgotten, 
and yet who was really an outstanding human being and 
teacher. Burges Johnson was a witty man who published 
absolutely delightful poetry from time to time, usually 
on such occasions as his wife's birthday, and who had 
published rather a number of books, and who was, I'm 
sure, an absolute delight in the classroom. I remained 
friends with him and his wife all down the years until 
his death in the late fifties. He would send me his 
holiday poems and his poems for his wife. I don't know 
any way in which the world will ever be any different in 
respect to men like him. I don't see how it can be, and 
I suppose that it's just for those of us who meet individuals 
like that to cherish him. And that's the end of it. 
I don't think I've been very coherent about this, but 
I'm going to be doing things on editing, I'm sure. 

Before and after this three-week session, which 
was a very intense one in which one lectured to classes 
every day for several hours, read a good deal, read material 
written by everyone in the class (and this included full- 
length plays and short plays and so on) and, in addition, 
prepared and delivered a speech to the entire university. . . 
I went back to Provincetown, Massachusetts, from which I 
had started, sitting up again on the way back, of course, 
to return with as much money as possible and went on with 



468 



the final weeks of revision of my novel. [tape recorder 

turned off] 

I come now to the immense event of 19 39 which was 

the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact on 

August 23, 1939. I first heard of it when I was in the 

middle of a tennis game at Provincetown, and the man I 

was playing with was someone who had been helpful to the 

Theatre Union. He was a member of the Socialist party, 

a very nice and sincere man. 

GARDNER: The name? 

MALTZ: I forget his name. But I will never forget 

what happened when we were told by someone who came over 

to the tennis court. He flung his tennis racket down on the 

court and shouted in a fury, "This is a sellout!" I 

was just as unprepared for the pact as he was and I 

was as bewildered by it as he was, but with my enormous 

amount of attachment to the Soviet Union as a political 

entity, I was not prepared to say that it was a sellout. 

In the course of the next days and weeks I came to have 

a position that it was not a sellout at all, and I can 

best express what I came to feel by reading from Professor 

Fleming's The Cold War and Its Origins (this is from 

volume one, page 84) : 

There remains the question whether the appease- 
ment governments deliberately planned to turn 
Hitler toward the East and into a war with Russia. 



469 



There was no question that the Nazis had done 
their best to convince the world that they were 
out to smash Bolshevism and conquer the Soviet 
Union. Hitler's speech saying that if he had 
the Urals all Germans would be swimming in 
plenty was only an outstanding example of this 
propaganda ... If London and Paris had not 
consciously sought to speed Hitler's march to 
the Urals, they had exerted themselves mightily 
to place within his grasp the necessary power for 
an attack upon the Soviet Union. Until the 
Czech bastion was swept away he could not effec- 
tively take over the Balkans, which he required 
to give him the necessary food and raw materials 
for a really great war machine, in addition to 
putting him on the borders of the Soviet Union. 
After Munich the British and French had lost 
all power to prevent Nazi Germany from becoming 
a colossus capable of attacking the Soviet 
Union or of turning upon them. To say that 
this certain and inevitable result of the long 
and persistent appeasement of Nazi Germany never 
occurred to the British and French Governments 
is to vastly underrate their astuteness and 
perspicacity . 

And now I want to quote again from page 96 of his book: 

In the Western world the Nazi-Soviet Pact caused 
widespread indignation . . . The Soviets were 
accused of executing the greatest double-cross 
in history. People everywhere said that this 
proved how treacherous they were and how wise the 
Allies had been in being slow to trust them. 
Anti-Communists all over the world charged that 
this treaty was the cause of the Second World War. 
Others, a little more discriminating, said that 
it had touched off the war, made it certain. 
The pact, it was said, gave Hitler the green 
light. In this form the charge was to be repeated 
perpetually for many years, especially when 
Soviet-American relations became acute after the 
Second World War. 

Actually, the Nazi determination to settle accounts 
with Poland had for months been as plain as any- 
thing could be . . . The decision to obliterate 
Poland was therefore fixed before the pact with 
Russia was signed. Without the pact the Nazi 



470 



Panzer divisions would have rolled up to the borders 
of the Soviet Union, occupying the White Russian 
and Ukranian half of Poland to which the Soviet 
Union had a far better right. This fact alone 
should dispose of the contention that if the Soviet 
Union could not come to terms with Britain and 
France it should have at least stood neutral like 
the American Congress. Moscow, it is said, did 
not need to make a deal with Hitler and give him 
the green light, but in reality the Soviet Government 
did not have this choice. By standing aloof it 
would have lost not only Eastern Poland but the 
Baltic states as well. By rejecting Hitler's 
promises, and the threats that always went with 
them, the Soviets would have placed themselves 
in the daily and imminent danger of fighting the 
German-Russian war for which they believed the 
West had tried to bring about. 

This seems to me a sober presentation of the actual 
facts. I find that now, after the passage of a great 
many years and no longer having the allegiances that 
I did at that time to either the Communist party or the 
Soviet Union, I nevertheless feel that the Soviet Union 
had every right to sign the nonaggression pact that it did, 
and that in fact the British and French had been signing 
nonaggression pacts with Hitler from 1935 on. So their 
screams were only those of people whose plans had fallen 
to the ground . 

Now, from that date until June 22, 1941, when the 
Nazis invaded the Soviet Union--a period of twenty-two 
months — the Communists of the United States learned what 
it was to be against the mainstream in a way that they had 
not experienced since the days of the [Alexander Mitchell] 
Palmer raids after World War I. (At least most of the 



471 



party personnel had not had the experience.) Now, 
perhaps for a certain type of emotionally combative 
person being against the mainstream and finding hostility 
on all sides is a situation that is enjoyable. But I 
think for most individuals, like myself, there's no 
pleasure in it, but I felt and others felt that we had to 
take that stand however unpopular it made us. Psycho- 
logically it was, to a certain degree, a preparation for the 
McCarthy years. The twenty- two months that-- No, let's 
pause for a moment while I get a date. [tape recorder 
turned off] The twenty-two months were a period of 
enormous complexity. During that period I adhered to 
the Communist party position. This meant that my attitudes, 
like that of other Communists, were based upon a series 
of propositions: (a) That the most urgent need of mankind 
was the preservation of the first and only socialist 
state. Defend the Soviet Union was a cardinal slogan of 
the Communist parties throughout the world. Now, this 
attitude involved an abiding trust in the Soviet Union, 
a belief that what it did was right not only for its own 
security but for the future of all peoples. It also 
involved the belief that in the leadership of the Communist 
party of the Soviet Union there was a deep well of wisdom 
based on a scientific socialist analysis of events. I 
look back at the latter proposition now and I smile at 



472 



my innocence. In today's world in which we see China 
pitted against Russia, China against Vietnam, Vietnam 
against Cambodia, Russia against Yugoslavia, and so on-- 
to speak of scientific socialism is to talk nonsense. 
However, I believed it at the time and many others did. 
(b) My attitudes also involved profound bitterness toward, 
and hatred of, the governments of England and France who 
had cooperated in the murder of the Spanish Republic, 
the incorporation of Austria, the rape of Czechoslovakia 
and so on. Finally, finally, they had given Poland a 
paper promise to come to its aid. And then when Poland 
was invaded by Germany, France did not take the obvious move 
of driving into the Rhineland. So far as I was concerned, 
the treachery of those leaders had been demonstrated once 
more. This, then, seemed to me to be a quarrel between 
imperialist antagonists--one side more savage than the 
other, but both sides imperialist. (c) Although now I 
think the Soviet aggression against Finland was a blunder, 
I didn't think so then and it was far from being a simple 
matter. However, if I had ever thought that it was a 
serious error, practically and in principle, I would not 
then have ceased supporting the Soviet Union. And this is 
no different from those, let's say, who supported Roosevelt 
in the election of 1940 in spite of the fact that they 
perhaps had detested his position about Spain during the 



473 



years 1936 to 1939. (d) We watched with enormous dismay 
and anguish as Hitler Germany successively overran Greece, 
Yugoslavia, Norway, and Denmark; and yet what was to be 
done? Who was to stop it? And then finally came the 
attack in the spring of 1940 on Holland, Belgium, and 
France. Then followed the fall of France and the British 
evacuation of its expeditionary force at Dunkirk. And 
after that came the air battle for Britain which Hitler 
apparently hoped would be a prelude to a land conquest 
of Britain. It's my belief now that with this battle 
the character of the British government, which had 
already changed-- Let me phrase it different . . . that 
with this battle a genuine anti-Nazi struggle began on the 
part of England. Previous to this, the Chamberlain 
government had fallen, Churchill had come into power. 
And I think we were no longer faced by the phony war 
that had existed between France, Britain, and Germany 
before the invasion. But now there was a genuine struggle 
on the part of England against Germany, the sort of struggle 
that the Soviet Union had pleaded for in its policy of 
collective security. 

However, I didn't see at that time, and the Communist 
parties of the world did not see at that time, that the 
character of the war had changed. This was a terrible 
error, and it was due to the fact that in foreign policy 



474 



the Cominunist parties were not independent politically. 
They waited for political signs from Moscow so that 
their foreign policies could be coordinated with that of 
the Soviet Union. As a result, the Cominunist party of the 
United States, for instance, took a stand during the battle 
for Britain, at a time when Roosevelt was ferrying planes 
to Britain, of opposition to this and to lend-lease, 
and its slogan was The Yanks Are Not Coming. As a result, 
at times the position of the Communist party came close to 
that of the isolationists in the America First group, who 
were political reactionaries. Now, the Communist party 
switched its position within twenty-four hours after the 
Nazis attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. This 
certainly did not win it any respect. It appeared to make 
of it a party without any principle beyond support of the 
Soviet Union. Now, this was true of its foreign policy, 
but it was not true of it as a whole. I was very unhappy 
and very troubled at the time over this event, but I 
continued to feel that the Marxist parties were the only 
path to human brotherhood, and I asked myself what persons 
or parties have never made grave mistakes. And so the 
events of that time did not cause me to lose my allegiance. 

As a footnote to the period of 1939, I was asked by 
V. J. Jerome, whom I have mentioned before as a Communist 
functionary in the cultural field, to write a statement. . 



475 



Can we hold up a second? Jtape recorder turned off] 
I was asked to write a statement in collaboration with 
Dashiell Hammett on the efforts that were then going on 
to suppress the Conmiunist party and to imprison its 
general secretary, Earl Browder, on a technical charge 
of passport violation. I was willing to do this, and 
I believe it was the first time I ever had any private 
conversation with Hammett, although I can't be sure of 
this; of course, we might have had other conversations that 
I have forgotten. However, for about three weeks I came 
once a week to his home somewhere downtown off Fifth Avenue 
and we discussed some materials that I had prepared. 
(I could mention in passing that our appointments were 
usually for noon or one o'clock, and when I would come, 
invariably I was not met by Hammett but by a sort of butler, 
I guess a butler who worked for him . . . not a butler 
but a man who worked for him, and who told me that 
Mr. Hammett would be right down. But Hammett was never 
right down, and when he appeared in a dressing gown 
over his pajamas, it was obvious to me that he had just 
been awakened and that he was probably suffering from a 
hangover.) I can't say that his contributions to what 
finally appeared were very great, but I did meet with him 
on each occasion and get his approval and occasional 
suggestions. It was a statement in defense of the Bill of 



476 



Rights and I think there was considerable soundness to it. 
But although sent out to the press in general with the 
names of sixty or seventy intellectuals attached to it, 
so far as I know it was published only in the Daily Worker , 
However, I think that's all. And I think we're finished 
for the day. 



477 



TAPE NUMBER: XIII, SIDE ONE 
NOVEMBER 8, 19 7 8 

MALTZ : Nineteen forty was a year of considerable publi- 
cation for me. I had a short story, "Sunday Morning on 
Twentieth Street, " in the spring issue of Southern Review . 
In June my first novel. The Underground Stream , was 
published and I'll read from some of the press reviews, 
[tape recorder turned off] This was the review in the 
New York Times , July 7, 1940, by Harold Strauss: "He has 
brought the labor novel back to the heroic pattern, and 
he has created a hero of massive proportions, a man who 
is not a poor creature of his immediate environment but 
one strong enough to avow and even to pursue an ideal of 
hum.an dignity and universal justice." And in the New York 
Herald-Tribune , Alfred Kazin: "The simplest characterization 
of Albert Maltz, and perhaps the truest, would be that he 
is a left-wing writer with real talent. What Maltz has 
tried to do in this novel is not merely to present communist 
heroism, but to describe and analyze the life of two 
antagonistic social groups. It is true that, while 
Maltz 's workers are superb and superbly presented, his 
capitalists and aspirant capitalists are more confusing 
than devilish. But Maltz 's effort to analyze, to charac- 
terize scrupulously, is obvious. And while it leads him 
to some fairly clumsy writing and occasionally embarrassing 



478 



simplicity, the intelligence of his effort is refreshing. 

There are many qualities lacking in The Underground Stream , 

qualities that have been popular with proletarian Homers, 

but qualities that one would dearly love to see in the 

American novel. Yet what Maltz has to say is important, 

and he says it strikingly. There are other virtues in the 

novel, other ambitions, greater excellences. These may 

be enough at the moment. These are warm and arresting 

now." In the daily New York Herald-Tribune , Lewis Gannett: 

"Albert Maltz 's first full-length novel. The Underground 

Stream , might, with a few minor changes, have been about 

an earlier Christian martyr. It is head and shoulders 

above the proletarian novels of recent years both in 

originality of conception and dramatic power. It is terse, 

earthy, exciting. It makes, to be sure, initial assumptions 

that most of us are unwilling to accept. It identifies 

the integrity and self-respect toward which Princey works 

with acceptance of Communist party discipline without 

ever discussing the goals toward which that discipline 

is directed. But the larger theme--man does not live 

by politics alone but yearns for identification with something 

larger than himself — is the stuff of which great modern 

novels are made. Drop the specific terminology and 

Mr. Maltz might be writing about religion or patriotism, 

which is a modern form of religion." Daily New York Times, 



479 



Ralph Thompson: "I think that the important thing to 
say about it is the one thing that the publishers forgot 
to say on the jacket--that it has an American Communist 
for a hero. Some reviewers, I note, have followed suit 
and treated it and admired it as a labor novel. So it 
unquestionably is. But it is not so much a labor novel as 
a party novel. In fact, it is almost a hymn in praise of 
the party — its politics, its methods, its leaders, its 
rank and file. The Underground Stream need hardly be 
discussed apart from this tendency. It has dramatic 
moments, melodramatic moments, clumsy moments, some 
excellent description and some humor. The point is the 
party, and the test is the ideal." Let's stop for a 
moment. [tape recorder turned off] 

I think there's no doubt that if The Underground Stream 
had been published before the Nazi-Soviet pact, those 
reviews which just attacked it on political grounds would 
not have done so--or most would not have--and its reception 
would have been a warmer one. It probably would have sold 
better. As it was, it sold out its first edition of 
4,000 copies and was not reprinted. After the war it 
was reprinted, however, in some sixteen languages and 
earned some foreign royalties over the next fifteen years. 
It has never gone into paperback in the United States. 
GARDNER: What's your own feeling toward the novel, in 



480 



the context of your writing? 

MALTZ: I really can't tell you, because I haven't 

reread the novel in many years. And in these past 

years I've sometimes had occasion to reread something 

of my own because it was going to be republished and 

some editing was wanted or something like that--some 

specific reason. And I find that sometimes I feel good 

about the work, and sometimes my opinion of it goes 

way down, so that I can't tell you what I would feel 

about The Underground Stream now. There will come a 

time presently, I think, where I'll want to read everything 

I've written and try to assess the way I feel about it. 

I don't know about that one. 

GARDNER: What about the problems of the novel? This 

was really your first novel. You've done plays that 

required similar structure. 

MALTZ: Yes. Well, working on a novel for me involved 

a great deal of thought, many pauses in which I would 

look at the writings of other novelists just to learn 

simple techniques. For instance, questions of tense are 

very interesting. I learned, and then was able to apply, 

a methodology that is comm.on in many books but which I had 

never noticed because I hadn't had occasion to notice-- 

namely, use of the past tense in this way: John had 

first seen Mary when they were in Grand Central Station 



481 



at adjacent ticket windows. It so happens that she had 
dropped something out of her purse and he had picked it 
up for her, and this had led to a bit of conversation. 
It was obvious that each found the other very interesting, 
and they went about. . . . I've now slipped from had to 
the past tense. I forget all the grammar names. I use 
grammar, but I don't know the names of it anymore: I don't 
know what "he had seen" --what is that? 
GARDNER: Pluperfect. 

MALTZ: Yes, pluperfect. All right. And then into the 
simple past. Well, things like that were things that I had 
to learn and apply, and sometimes they took some time. I 
don't know whether this is true of other writers, it was 
true of me. But then there were questions of style. I know 
that I spent time studying certain writers whose style I 
admired at the time I was writing The Underground Stream : 
one of them was [Andre] Malraux, Man's Fate ; a second was 
Andreyev, the Russian writer, author of The Ten Who Were 
Hanged --what was it? This is absurd. . . . 
GARDNER: I think that's what it is. 

MALTZ: Just turn this off for a minute. [tape recorder 
turned off] The Seven Who Were Hanged and, as I recall, 
some of Galsworthy. This was in the period of my first 
novel. I found what I would call simple, clean writing, 
something that I wanted to try and achieve. While I could 



482 



admire the lush prose of a Thomas Wolfe--did and do--it was 
not something I had inside of me to write. I do know that 
in that novel and I think in all of my novels, I tended to 
use short time spans in what was a combination of dramatic 
and novelistic technique because the dramatic form came 
very naturally to me. But, in addition, I felt that there 
was an automatic tension and suspense that was set up by 
the tight time factor that one finds in a book like Man ' s 
Fate , and also in The Seven Who Were Hanged , which I liked. 
GARDNER: What about characterizations? In working with 
the theater it's a completely different problem because, 
first of all, you have dialogue; second of all, you have 
actors, live actors; in the novel you are left only with 
characters. 

MALTZ: Yes. One of the reasons I turned to the novel from 
theater--not the only reason--was that I felt I wanted to 
try and achieve some depths of characterization that I 
couldn't achieve on the stage in plays, [because] there 
wasn't time for them. I wanted to be able to go into a 
character's thoughts and into his past in a way that the 
novel permits. [tape recorder turned off] The novel is a 
much freer form than the theater, especially the Ibsen 
theater to which I came. It permits all of the devices 
of theater in terms of dialogue, but it also permits an 
author to comment; it permits train of thought; it permits 



483 



flashback scenes into the past; it permits memories, fan- 
tasy, dreams in a way that's not possible in theater. And 
the fact is I found fiction a more agreeable form in which 
to work than the theater, or else I would have gone back 
to the theater. I don't know, in fact, whether--yes, I'll 
change that. I do know. ... I feel that I did better 
work in fiction than I did in drama, and I'm only sorry that 
the way my life has gone I had to spend so much time at 
film writing and was not able to concentrate purely on 
fiction. 

GARDNER: Okay. Oh, go ahead. 
MALTZ: I'm sorry. Please. 

GARDNER: I was just going to say, were you — well, go 
ahead. . . . When did you go to Hollywood then? 
MALTZ: Well, I'm going to come to that. I find that 
sequences by years are the easiest for me to recall. Now, 
in 1940 I wrote several reviews in Equality magazine. One 
was of the novel Native Son by Richard Wright, and I ended 
that review by saying: "It's a fine and noble book. Read 
it and be proud of the author." The second was a review 
of the film Gone with the Wind , and I titled my review, 
"Slandering the Negro: Four Million Dollars' Worth of 
Wind." I did anonymous writing for Equality , and I'll 
mention it for what value it has for a record like this: 
in 1940, in February, an editorial, "Father Coughlin 



484 



streamlines for War"; in March, "Grapes of Wrath Folk," 
"Take Your Choice" and "The Dies Committee and Anti-Semi- 
tism"; in April, "Labor and Democratic Rights"; and in May, 
"The Fog Comes in on Little Cat Feet." 

I wrote an anonymous leaflet for Mother's Day, May 14, 
for distribution by the Queens-Long Island branch of the 
Communist party. And I mention this because I am glad at 
this moment to see the slogans after these many years which 
were: Boycott Germany and Italy; Stop Munition Shipments 
to Japan; Stop the Fascist Warmakers; Let America Join 
with All Peace-Loving Nations to Bar Further Aggression. 
I mention this because it's illustrative of the complexities 
of the politics of that period. May 14, 1940, is a period 
in which Roosevelt was already sending lend-lease shipments 
to England, which I was not supporting; on the other hand, 
he was selling munitions to Japan, which I was against, and 
those munitions were used, in effect, on Pearl Harbor when 
the Japanese attacked. In addition, with the Communist 
party somewhat uncertain--certainly the Soviet Communist 
party--on how it handled its antifascism in that period, I 
had the slogan Boycott Germany and Italy, so that my support 
of the pact had not made me personally lessen my hatred of 
fascism, I also wrote anonymously a statement, "The Writers 
Don't Want War," for the League of American Writers, which 
was signed by 300 writers. This must have been written 



485 



before Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, because I notice 
among the signers Irwin Shaw, and I know that in a personal 
encounter with him he expressed his differences with me 
after that time. But it's interesting that at that period 
among the signers were Richard Wright, Muriel Rukeyser, 
Ruth McKenney, Rockwell Kent, Robert Coates, Harold Clurman, 
Nelson Algren. My scrapbook tells me that at the fourth 
[congress] of the League of American Writers that year I was 
elected one of the vice-presidents, Richard VJright was another, 
Dashiell Hammett became president. And I see by the board 
of directors that a split had occurred and that men like 
Malcolm Cowley and Archibald MacLeish and Hemingway had 
cut themselves off from the league. 
GARDNER: For what reasons? 

MALTZ: Well, because they were supporting Roosevelt in 
that period and were for aid to England. 

In June there came an invitation from some--I guess 
really from members of the Communist party in Hollywood for 
either George Sklar or myself to come out and do a- revision 
of our play Peace on Earth ; to update it to the immediate 
scene and have a production in Los Angeles. I asked George 
Sklar the other day just how it came about, and he remembered 
that they sent one train ticket with a berth. We decided 
that we would both go, and we went out sitting up four nights 
and three days as a way of getting in under the same amount 
of money. 

486 



GARDNER: Who was it that extended the invitation? 
MALTZ: Well, it came from a group which would have involved, 
I know, Herbert Biberman and — gosh, I don't know what spe- 
cific others. I know Jerry Chodorov. . . . And out here 
we discussed what they had in mind, and we decided what we 
could do, and I did a first version rapidly. And then I 
had to go to Boulder, Colorado, for another summer session, 
and George stayed on and stayed right through changes and 
rehearsals, which were apparently very painful for him. 
The play that resulted I don't suppose was very good, and 
it ran about three or four weeks and then closed. 

On the faculty at Boulder were some interesting men: 
Robert Penn Warren, who was just a very nice gentleman, as 
well as being a fine writer; and Harry Hansen, the book 
reviewer; and Frederick Lewis Allen, a very interesting author 
whose works Only Yesterday and another one with a similar 
title were important histories of the period. 

After that I returned to our apartment in Queens. 
About this period a financial squeeze started between the 
higher expenditures caused by the fact that we had a child 
and the fact that my novel hadn't earned anything over the 
$500 advance. 
GARDNER: Five hundred? 

MALTZ: Yes. At that time an advance of $500 was a going 
advance for a first novel. As a matter of fact (I'll look 



487 



it up) for my second novel I think the advance was about 
$1,500 down and $500 when I turned in the manuscript. The 
advances that we read of today are very different. It's a 
very different book scene. For instance, a leading best- 
selling author like Hemingway never earned from his books 
probably a fifth of what is earned by best-selling authors 
today. And my volume of short stories had also not earned 
anything, and so I went into a period in which I inter- 
mittently tried, in addition to my teaching and my other 
writing, to write stories for the Saturday Evening Post , 
which at that time was paying $750 and $1,000 for a story; 
whereas the most I would be getting for a short story would 
be $100 to $300. None of my stories sold to the Post , but 
several sold to very low-paying papers and magazines, and 
I gave that up. I have noted that my earnings from purely 
literary work from 1932, when I did have a film sale, part 
of a film sale, through 1940 averaged out at $2,300 a year, 
or less than $200 a month. Now, that was not too bad for a 
beginning writer in those days. 

GARDNER: Or for the era, when things were probably cheaper, 
MALTZ: But it was not enough to live on if you had a child 
and wanted to live above poverty level. My wife in that 
period did do some work, but not after we had the child. 
GARDNER: Well, in addition, didn't you have the earnings 
of your teaching and so on? 



488 



MALTZ : Yes, I had earnings from teaching, yes. Now, 
reprints--that ' s why I could get along: reprints of 
my work continued, and I'm going to continue to mention 
this because we'll see the contrast when we come to the 
blacklist years. "Man on a Road" and "Happiest Man on 
Earth" went into literary anthologies for college students. 
"Incident on a Street Corner" went into Short Stories from 
the New Yorker , and payments for reprints varied from 
$25 to $50 each. And nowadays they would be $250 or $300 
or more. In the fall the financial squeeze deepened 
because young people, who had been on WPA, started to 
get factory work, and my classes became smaller. In 1941 
I published "Afternoon in the Jungle" in the New Yorker , 
and this has been reprinted often in many countries. 

I also published something which I hoped was going to 
foreshadow a novel that I wanted to write, and that was a 
story called "The Piece of Paper" in a magazine called 
Direction , which had a short life. The title "The Piece 
of Paper" referred to the Emancipation Proclamation in 
1863. During this period of 1940 and 1941 I had been 
reading in black history, which of course at that time we 
called Negro history. My reading had started with a book 
that was startling in its information: it was Negro Slave 
Revolts in the United States by Herbert Aptheker, published 
by Col\ambia University Press. This scholar, who later 



489 



became a Communist party functionary, had uncovered an 
entire vein of ore, let's say, of Negro slave history 
which at once changed one's picture of the centuries of 
slavery. Because he established that there were no less 
than 400 organized revolts against slavery by Negroes 
and that therefore they had not been the, quote, "happy 
slaves" that the southerners, the southern slave owners, 
said they were. There was also a best-selling book by 
Henrietta Buckmaster called Let My People Go about slavery 
and the underground railroad, the events of the period, 
which was a fine work of scholarship. And there were 
the books of Du Bois to which I was introduced. The 
result was that I conceived of a three-volume project of 
novels, with each novel able to stand on its own feet, 
and my following all the characters through from beginning 
to end. The first novel would encompass the period of 
slavery, the second the period of the Civil War, and the 
third of Reconstruction. I became very excited by it and 
began to read in all my spare time, to make research notes, 
and notes for the story, and I was on a very high level of 
excitement about it. 

During the year 1941, short story reprints continued 
to grow and be in college anthologies of literature, and 
my story "The Happiest Man on Earth" was made into a short 
film by MGM. MGM said that it was embarking on a program 



490 



of doing short stories as short films so that the double 
feature in films could be changed and that they would have 
one feature and a short film based upon a short story of 
quality. But, in fact, it never followed with any others 
after mine. 

GARDNER: Were you well paid for the movie rights? 
MALTZ: Oh, I think I got $1,000 for the movie rights, or 
$900. In those years, for me, getting $900 was great. That 
was unexpected and it was fine, but of course it was a small 
sum. Now, I have not discussed politics in this period 
because I covered this period, really, in earlier discussion, 
GARDNER: Talking about the Nazi-Soviet pact and so on. 
MALTZ: Yes, and that whole period. I note from my scrap- 
book that on January 8, '41, I spoke at a Westchester town 
meeting in a hall at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, 
New York. Now, I have no idea why I spoke. Maybe I was 
offered fifty dollars and spoke for that reason; it is more 
likely that I spoke just because someone asked me to. But 
I do recall that this talk had to do in considerable part 
with the role of black troops in the Civil War, which was 
one of the things that I was very excited about. I think 
I will mention in passing that due to manpower shortages 
the enlistment of freed slaves, or northern blacks, in the 
Union army--so that there were 400,000 of them--and the use 
of blacks in transport and supply and digging trenches and 



491 



so on were so significant that President Lincoln said that 
if they were on the other side, instead of on his side, he 
would have to give up the war. And, in fact, the central 
political discussion in the South for the last two years 
of the war was whether or not they should free their slaves 
if they would fight on the side of the South. And this was 
a terrible issue for the South because the southerners had 
maintained that blacks were not morally fit to be free. If 
they now said they would give them their freedom if they 
fought, they would acknowledge the bankruptcy of their 
previous moral stand. So that the South was split on this 
issue. But it was the intervention of General Lee, who 
said, "We will know how to take care of them after the war," 
which led to a final vote in favor of freeing slaves who 
would fight. But it was too late when the South did this. 
Now, I had all of this material in my hands, was very 
excited about it, and I knew of the absolutely brilliant 
military record of the black troops in the northern army. 
They were tremendous as soldiers because they were fighting 
for what they desperately wanted. And I wanted to follow 
in my novel a slave who became one of those troops. After 
my talk a professor of Sarah Lawrence who was present wrote 
me a furious letter denouncing me (probably I have it 
somewhere, but I'm not sure), and I answered him with docu- 
mentation, probably taking a full day to do so. But I 



492 



observe at this time how much time went into this one talk, 
and I don't think it was the way to spend ray time. It 
would have been better spent working on the novel. 

In January I see by my scrapbook that I also attended 
a meeting of authors and educators on the problems of anti- 
Semitism. Now, this is interesting because it reveals to 
what extent the issue of anti-Semitism was one of great 
concern to decent people at that time. The meeting was 
held under the auspices of the National Conference of 
Christians and Jews, and among those present were Thornton 
Wilder, Archibald MacLeish, Henry Seidel Canby, Edna Ferber, 
and John Marquand. You just simply would not get a gathering 
of that distinction on the issue of anti-Semitism today 
because there isn't that kind of issue. 

The financial squeeze that I have been mentioning 
became too great in the spring of 1941. My wife and I owed 
Bloomingdale 's department store $800, and I suppose that 
would be about $4,000 today, or maybe more, and I used to 
say that they owned our son. My friends Michael Blankfort 
and George Sklar had gotten work in Hollywood, and we made 
the decision that I would try also. And as soon as teaching 
was over, I went out to Las Vegas, New Mexico, because my 
mother-in-law was ill and my wife had taken our son out 
there earlier. And then after a few days I went overnight 
by bus to Los Angeles. And I, for about ten days, slept 



493 



on a couch in the tiny cottage that the Sklars had. Although 
he was working, they had not yet accumulated enough money to 
move into anything better than the very simple little quar- 
ters that they had. 

By luck I got a job very quickly. The film director 
Frank Tuttle had a piece of material--had a novel, actually, 
by Graham Greene called This Gun for Hire which had been 
owned by Paramount, and he had worked out a way in which 
the story might be done which was acceptable. He wanted a 
writer just at the time that I came into town and heard about 
me and knew my work, and I got the job at $300 a week. Now, 
that was not the actual net that one received, because 
Hollywood salaries always involve a 10 percent deduction 
for an agent, and in my case it was 15 percent because I had 
an arrangement whereby my literary agent got 5 percent and 
there's 1 percent . . . [phone rings--tape recorder 
turned off] . . . and deducted from a Hollywood salary 
there's always 1 percent for motion picture relief, and it 
would have been about 1 percent for dues to the guild, the 
Writers Guild, and taxes, so that $300 salary does not mean 
that. But, on the other hand, compared to the kind of money 
that I had been earning, it was wonderful; it was just what 
I hoped to achieve. There's an amusing story that's worth 
telling in passing about this. 



494 



I worked for the first several months up at the home 
of director Frank Tuttle, who lived in a very large house 
in the Hollywood Hills; not only a large house with large 
grounds, it had a swimming pool but also had a very large 
poolside place where there was a gym and where guests 
could dress and undress and so on. And it was there that 
a table was set up and I worked. Now, I had come from Los 
Angeles with one suit only . . . 
GARDNER: To Los Angeles. 

MALTZ: . . . to Los Angeles with one suit only, which was 
a very heavy green tweed suit which I distinctly remember 
buying in New York in a cut-rate haberdashery for twenty-five 
dollars the winter before. It was wonderful for the New 
York winters. It had a vest, it was very heavy tweed, it 
was water-repellent, and it was just great. But when I 
hit Los Angeles in June, the weather was warm, and Frank 
Tuttle was out on the side of his pool just in a pair of 
swim trunks taking the sun. And while I would take off my 
jacket (I had left my vest at home, of course), and I'd 
take off my tie, I was still sitting in this heavy pair of 
tweed trousers. And Frank would say, "Why do you wear such 
a warm suit?" And I would say, "Oh, I'm not warm." And it 
occurs to me that I could have borrowed money from George 
Sklar or Michael Blankfort for a new suit; why I didn't, 
I don't know. But I went through this comedy until money 



495 



accumulated and I was able to get some clothes and an apart- 
ment and a car. 

On the twenty-second of that month, Germany invaded 
the Soviet Union, and the political atmosphere began to 
change rapidly. With the Soviet Union at war with Germany, 
the U.S. establishment stopped considering the Soviet Union 
its enemy, and vice versa; the Communist party stopped 
considering the U.S. establishment an imperialist seducer 
of the masses. Now the Communist party wanted Roosevelt to 
send lend-lease aid to the Soviet Union as well as to 
England . 

GARDNER: Did you immediately make contacts in the party 
out here when you came? 

MALTZ : I did very shortly after I came here, and I'll 
come to that in a moment. On the bottom level in Hollywood, 
and this was representative of other areas in the country, 
Communists and fellow travelers were able to function together 
with liberals who had been opposed to the Nazi-Soviet pact 
because they all found themselves now on the same side. 
Here I think I might discuss briefly the functioning of the 
major studios in the 1940s, since the way they operated is 
very different from the way they do today, and I don't 
believe we're ever likely to return to the way it once was. 

In the forties the major studios still owned chains of 
theaters. When I say chains of theaters, it meant not only 



496 



for the sale of tickets to those people who came to see 
their films, but for the popcorn sales which meant so much 
in terms of general income. At that time there was no TV 
on the scene to be a competitor, and some 90 million people 
a week went to the films. The Saturday night habit was a 
strong one all over the country. At that time studios 
turned out 400 to 500 films a year instead of perhaps 200 
at most now, and frequently there were double bills in 
theaters. And since the companies got a profit by not 
only making the films but by exhibiting them, they were able 
to have on their payroll producers, directors, writers, 
actors and so on. It was the great profits of the film 
industry that brought about the huge salaries for the top 
people who worked in them. 

For instance, if a writer at that time earned $500 
a week and spent twenty weeks on a film script, that was 
$10,000 that he earned. But if at that time his film 
grossed $3 million and returned a profit, let's say, of a 
million and a half to the studio, it is easy to see why the 
studio was willing to pay him $500 a week, which was far 
more than, let's say, a physician was earning at that time, 
[tape recorder turned off] The same was true of actors and 
directors and producers. 

As a result, studios competed with one another in 
order to get those writers, directors, producers, and actors 



497 



who would bring in the most at the box office, and it was 
out of this competition, and of of the general high profits 
of the industry, that the salaries of those who worked in 
it were as high as they were. Since there was not a similar 
competition among secretaries and others who worked in the 
industry, their salaries were no greater than the salaries 
they could have earned if they were secretaries in busi- 
nesses of clothing manufacturers or paper concerns. Now, 
the level, what I'd [call] the artistic and intelligence 
level of the executive personnel at that time varied from 
the extreme vulgar to men of very genuine taste. (And I 
say men because women were all but excluded.) It was my 
very good fortune in my years in Hollywood in the forties, 
for the most part, to work with individuals of taste. But 
I know a lot of my friends who did not. I came to. . . . 
GARDNER: You don't care to name names on that, I take it? 
MALTZ: Well, I. . . . 

GARDNER: People who stand out on either end of the 
spectrum? 

MALTZ: I will. I'm going to mention Jerry Wald in a 
moment and a few other people of specific things I worked 
in, so I will probably do it that way. 

I came to the film industry with a personal plan which 
I adhered to for the six and a half years from my arrival 
until the blacklist, and that plan was to do everything I 



498 



could to minimize the amount of film work I did in order to 
have as much time as possible for fiction. So that I 
intended to live modestly, and my wife was in accord with 
this: save all the money we could, and as soon as I had 
enough money to go to work on some fiction, to do so. And 
this is the way I did live. I'd like to make a passing 
comment about writers who go to work in films. 

There is a general attitude amongst, let's say, intel- 
lectuals outside of the film industry, a general assumption 
that if a writer moves from New York or Chicago or some 
other area to look for work in films he has, quote, "sold 
out." The same people who do not look down at a businessman 
for making money sneer at writers who work for money. They 
have "gone Hollywood," and they somehow have betrayed a 
sacred trust. . . . 



499 



TAPE NUMBER: XIII, SIDE TWO 
NOVEMBER 8, 19 7 8 

GARDNER: Before we resxime our conversation we are going to 
copy something that was recorded while the tape was running 
out. 

MALTZ : Now, in the first place there are various kinds of 
writers--and always have been. For instance, a writer may 
have had a play, a first play performed on Broadway, that 
was a comedy, let's say, and the writer never had any desire 
to do serious work: he wrote in the hope of making money. 
Well, why shouldn't such a writer go where money was paid 
for his talents? And sometimes, of course, there are a 
great many writers who talk about serious creative work but 
never do it. There are such people to be found in New York 
and San Francisco and so on, and they're not declared to 
have sold out because they just sit in basements and chew 
the fat but don't go out to Hollywood. There are very 
serious film writers, like Dudley Nichols, who was a news- 
paperman and who did some of the best work of his career in 
Hollywood, who nevertheless . . . [copy tape recorder turned 
off] 

GARDNER: Okay, we're now resuming our human- to-human 
conversation. 
MALTZ: . . . who nevertheless had a deep yearning to write 



500 



a play for Broadway. I happen to know of a peculiar problem 
he had, because I knew him and liked him very much, and the 
problem was this: he felt that he could not do work on a 
play when he was living in Hollywood. He had a large house 
in Connecticut, which I had seen, and which he kept going 
with a caretaker all year round. Every few years he would 
leave Hollywood for six months or three months on that 
Connecticut place, where he would not be able to write a 
play, and he would come back then to Hollywood because he 
had to keep the place up. And the poor fellow went on like 
this year after year. It must be borne in mind that, as 
I've mentioned earlier, most serious writers in the United 
States, and I think elsewhere in the world as well, are 
not able to earn a living from their serious work. Nobody 
sneered at Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22 , because he 
worked in an advertising agency. He was not said to have 
gone Madison Avenue. And people didn't sneer at Archibald 
MacLeish and Robert Penn Warren and Saul Bellow for teaching, 
but they were only doing the equivalent of what others did 
who sought work in radio or in films. 

For me, until the blacklist came, Hollywood was a 
blessing. It was the way in which I could finance my 
serious writing while meeting my other obligations: one 
child, and then a second in 1942, and a wife with heavy 
medical and psychoanalytic bills, who was in bed ill for 



501 



half of each year from 1939 until 1950. If it had not been 
for Hollywood, I would have had to try and catch on in radio 
or in some work unrelated to writing. And on the whole I 
was also fortunate in the film work I got. Most of it was 
interesting. I worked at it as hard as I could, and I did 
well at it. My ability to save money earned in film writing 
also freed me to work at novels with no concern whatsoever 
for anything except my subject. Farthest from my mind was 
whether or not the novel might become a film. Now, this 
was not necessarily true of others, but it was true of me. 

From the time that I began work in the middle of the 
year with Frank Tuttle, things went like this: the treatment 
for the story (a treatment is, let's say, the story itself 
told from beginning to end in anywhere from twenty to sixty 
pages) was accepted by the head of the studio and a producer 
was assigned to the project. In the forties the position 
of the producer was a very different one from the one it is 
today. The film producer was a counterpart to the play 
producer in New York, who was the dominant person in choosing 
a play and working with the writer on revisions, and then 
deciding who would direct it, and in casting the play with 
the director, and so on. In film, before a director was 
ever hired, it was the producer who was hired, and there 
were producers who had marvelous records in the quality of 
what they did: Pan Herman, for instance, a producer at MGM, 



502 



and Jerry Wald, a producer at Warner Brothers. The 
producer was the one who would work with the writer on the 
script, so that my first work with Tuttle was an unusual 
situation. Usually, in the setup at that time the 
producer would finish the script with the writer, the 
writer would then leave the studio, and the director would 
come in; and the writer and the director might have no 
contact whatsoever. And then it would be the producer 
with the director who would cast, and the producer would 
supervise the shooting, and the producer would have the 
last say on the cutting--as indeed the producer does today. 
But it was a sign of the fact that a project had become 
a reality, was going into screenplay, that a producer 
was assigned to it. 

An amusing little thing happened on This Gun for Hire . 
The head of the studio at that time was a Broadway character 
by the name of Buddy DaSilva, who had been in the musical 
comedy field in New York. He knew the field of musical 
comedy, but I think little else. And he was afraid that 
I might not be able to write a sound screenplay so that, 
without waiting for my first screenplay, he hired a VJarner 
Brothers writer who had done some fine scripts at Warner 
Brothers, W. R. Burnett, and Burnett did me a marvelous 
turn. As I would write sequences of the screenplay, they 
would be sent to Burnett for revision. He would look at 



503 



them and perhaps change a word and then send them back, 
untouched, and he did this for the whole screenplay. He 
got a joint screenplay credit for this because it was 
written into his contract that he had to get one. And 
at that time there wasn't the arbitration machinery in 
the Writers Guild which would have permitted me to protest 
this. But I was grateful to him because I didn't have the 
problem of wrangling with another man's taste. The 
usual practice of a second writer on a script like that 
is to try and change the script so that it will be his own. 

The screenplay was completed at the end of September, 
and Alan Ladd, who had had a few small parts in films but 
had been noticed by Frank Tuttle, the director, was cast 
in it, and a passing sensation, Veronica Lake, was cast 
in the female part. The film went into production 
within about two weeks of the script having been finished, 
which was most unusual. I was assigned to be on the 
set because they had nothing else for me to do, actually, 
and I found this both useful in the learning process but 
essentially boring. And since I was not interested in 
becoming a director, I spent as much time as I could reading 
in the historical materials for my novel. 

GARDNER: What problems did you confront in dealing with 
a screenplay? It's interesting to me that, having just 
gone from playwriting to novel writing, then you're 



504 



taking a novel and turning it back into screenwriting . 
MALTZ : Well, actually, in the most fundamental way 
I had little problem with screenwriting, and the reason 
was precisely because I was a dramatist. Of all writers, 
I think. . . . Let me put it this way: most of those 
who have written plays, to my best knowledge, make 
a transition to film writing very easily. But one never 
knows whether, let's say, a novelist will be able to do 
a screenplay. 
GARDNER: Right. 

MALTZ : There are excellent novelists who cannot do 
screenplays because they don't see . . . they don't write 
in terms of dramatic scenes. But since the film form, 
as a dramatic form, is very close to the play form, the 
transition for a dramatist is easy. It was easy for me 
to-- There was the same type of story construction, basic 
story construction in the play as in film, and, therefore, 
that fundamental requirement I had. Something that I 
did not have was the brevity of writing which is a 
requirement in the film form. I remember that I would 
turn in scenes of four pages to the director and to the 
producer, whose name was Richard Blumenthal, and those 
would emerge, after they cut them, as two-page scenes, 
one-and-a-half-page scenes. I would turn in two-page 
scenes that might become half-a-page scenes. And what 



505 



was happening was that they were moving the story from 
dramatic moment to dramatic moment with nothing extraneous, 
absolutely nothing extraneous. The rule was that, if you 
wanted to characterize, you had to characterize within the 
circumference of a dramatic event. You could not have 
some characterization for its own sake and then have the 
dramatic event. The characterization for its own sake had 
to go out, and this was a process that I had to learn, and, 
as a matter of fact, I would say that I still have not 
learned it fully. 

For instance, a few years ago I did a script, which 
was never made, working with the director Mark Robson. 
Now, Mark Robson had begun as a cutter so he was expert 
in going to the core of a scene. And again and again Mark 
was able to cut down scenes that I gave him. I agreed 
with his cutting, but I couldn't have done it myself. 
However, the important fact right from the beginning 
with me was that I wrote scenes that they didn't throw 
out as scenes; they merely wanted to make them shorter. 
I was giving them the drama that they wanted and the step- 
by-step movement that they wanted. You have any other. . . 
GARDNER: No, I think that's a good point. If there's 
another question, it would have to do with the specific 
problem of doing a screenplay from somebody else's novel 
as opposed to original work, which, of course, was what 



506 



you were used to doing. 

MALTZ: Well, it is much easier, usually, to do something 
from, let's say, a novel--take a novel, then put it into 
a screenplay--than to write an original screenplay story, 
perhaps, because the story is there. There are many things 
you have to do to transmute it to the film form. They're 
not the same forms, but you have something that you can 
work with. It's the difference, let's say, between having 
a lump of clay which is just a ball of clay, or a head 
which has been sculpted by someone. Now, you must take that 
sculptured head and, while trying to keep the essence of it, 
let's say, you have to make it fit a somewhat different 
space; therefore you know that you have to push in the 
nose and make it smaller, and you have to make the ears 
a little larger, and you have to do this and that, but 
you're working with something that's already in a form. 
And so in general I consider it easier to do that work. 

But there are problems that are special to film. 
For instance, when I was blacklisted I did a film (which 
will be nameless) based upon a novel that was about 700 pages 
long and that went over a period of years. If I had 
followed everything in the novel, I would have produced 
a screenplay that would make a film eighteen hours long. 
The question is, how do you get a film that will only be 
two hours long? Well, you have to study the novel and 



507 



get one scene that you invent which is not alien to the 
spirit of the book, but which stands for five chapters 
which you cannot reproduce because they would be too long, 
and yet which conveys the essence of the five chapters. 
So film writing is a very definite skill. To look 
down upon it is nonsense. And one of those who really 
appreciates it is the author . . . [tape recorder turned off] 
. . . Gore Vidal, who did some film writing before he 
became a novelist. Another one who appreciates it is 
James Michener . For the most part, I think a great many 
people are schizophrenic in their attitude toward Hollywood. 
They may have seen a given film that they thought was 
very beautiful, let's say, like Marty ; on the other hand, 
they look down upon the Hollywood product because all too 
often they have said, well, let's go to the movies tonight-- 
what's playing? And that's a ridiculous way to go to the 
movies. You're statistically likely to see some piece 
of garbage. 

GARDNER: One last question and then I'll let you get 
on with your. . . . 

MALTZ : No, I'm glad to have you ask them. 

GARDNER: Since what you had been writing all along was mater- 
ial that had a great deal of your own philosophy in it . . . 
MALTZ: Yes, yes. 
GARDNER: . . . were you able to incorporate anything 



508 



into a screenplay of a philosophical subject? 
MALTZ: As a matter of fact, you bring up a whole question 
which I think we might discuss, which is the question 
of getting in. . . . The charge was made in the Un-American 
Activities Committee about Communist writers trying to 
influence films, and so on. I don't know whether this 
is the moment to take it up; I think it might be better 
to take it up later. But in the case of Frank Tuttle and 
myself there was a harmony of attitude, and in order to 
make This Gun for Hire work when changed from the English 
scene to the American scene, and changed in the year-period, 
we found it necessary to make use, I believe, of a munitions 
maker who was a fascist in his general outlook. I don't 
remember the story very well. But we did that because we 
were seeking a motivation for what happened in the story, 
and we were not doing it because we wanted to try and 
say something politically. Actually, any writer, of 
whatever political or human persuasion, cannot help but 
write out of what is in his head and his heart. And a 
given characterization in a comedy by Neil Simon, for 
instance, obviously comes out of what is in him--in his 
thoughts, experiences, and emotions. And the same was true 
of me when I worked on given material. 

For instance (not a bad illustration although so 
trivial) , the leading character in This Gun for Hire 



509 



is a man who kills for money. And after the first murder 
you see him stop on a stairway, I think, where he pets 
a cat. Now, I happen to like cats very much, and if I 
didn't, probably the idea of him petting a cat would not 
even have occurred to me. But it did occur to me. And 
yet I wasn't trying to put that scene in in order to 
get people to like cats. So it's that difference. 
GARDNER: Right. 

MALTZ: Now, the success of the script for This Gun for Hire 
locked me into a contract that I didn't want but had no 
way of escaping. At that time when someone like myself 
sought film work, the producers always signed him to a 
seven-year contract. And if I had rejected that contract, 
I wouldn't have gotten that job which I so badly needed. 
Under the contract they had the right after the first three 
months, as I recall, to drop me; or they had the right to 
pick me up for another six months or another year. And 
then at the end of that period, if they wished, they could 
drop me; or if they picked me up, then my salary would go 
up by a given amount of dollars. If I stayed the whole 
seven years, my salary might then have ended up to be 
$1,000 a week. Now, I didn't want to be on contract, 
and I certainly had no intention of working seven years 
if they picked me up, but there was no way I could avoid 
the contract. So that they did pick me up, and in the 



510 



the middle of November when the shooting on This Gun for 
Hire was completed, or almost so, I was assigned to 
work for Cecil B, De Mille on a Mexican theme called 
Rurales . The rurales were mounted police in the country- 
side of prerevolutionary Mexico noted both for their 
efficiency and their brutality. Can we pause for a 
moment? 

GARDNER: Sure. [tape recorder turned off] 
MALTZ: For the first month of my working with De Mille, 
it was fine because I was reading Mexican history, which 
is fascinating, and getting ideas. And then came the 
problem of the once-a-week meetings with De Mille. 
De Mille at that time came into the studio just on Fridays, 
as I recall, and he had a separate table in the commissary. 
He always came in wearing a pair of riding boots. He was 
a man of about five-feet-seven or -eight, brawny and strong, 
bald-headed and very macho in his conduct. And when he 
came in for lunch, those of us who were in his retinue 
ate lunch with him. He had one woman who had written for 
him in his early years and whom he kept on payroll although 
she didn't contribute anything that I knew of, and some 
other person. He had myself on as a writer and he had 
some junior writer, a young man called St. John on. And 
after the lunch we would have a meeting, and I discovered 
that De Mille, in my view of him, was a man who had 



511 



X number of pigeonholes in his head, and when you 
suggested an idea, as I suggested quite a few, if it fit 
into a pigeonhole, then he said fine; and no matter how 
good the other ideas were, if they didn't fit any of 
those pigeonholes, they were no good. I did hit one 
pigeonhole right off, and I thought, "this is going to be 
great," because he was very pleased about it, and I don't 
think I hit another pigeonhole for the time I was with 
him. [laughter] And so the work, as the weeks went on 
with him, started to get less attractive. 

I'll tell what happened to that in a moment, but 
now I want to pause to say that early, during the seven 
months of 1941, I became attached to a party branch in 
the film section, and in the course of the next six and 
a half years, I was in several branches of the party. Many 
of the members were writers, but there were also readers 
and some secretaries and so on. Meetings were weekly. 
There were serious discussions of the Communist party 
programs and issues of the day. Special topics were 
discussed after certain people had given reports and 
pamphlets had been read [on] such fissues] as, say, the 
woman question and the matter of equal rights of women, 
and of foreign policy. Literature was sold and sometimes 
a book review was given by someone who had been assigned to 
do it, or volunteered to do it, and selections of classics. 



512 



Marxist classics, were discussed. Members might be urged 
to join in an election campaign, and discussion of 
recruiting more members would go on. We would meet at 
different homes. I attended branch meetings quite regularly, 
but I was not involved in inner-party work at any time. 
What I mean by that is that any organization needs wheels 
within wheels to make it operate, and so we had members 
who were elected to be branch organizers and who would 
be responsible to section organizers--to get literature, 
to deliver dues, and so on. And I didn't do that kind 
of thing. I was never a branch organizer and I didn't want 
any of that kind of work. I did from time to time function 
somewhat in the Hollywood branch of the League of American 
Writers. And another thing that I did do was to read the 
work in progress of other party members who had a novel, 
a short story, a screenplay that they sought help on. In 
that period I avoided organizational work as much as possi- 
ble, after my experience in New York, so that in free hours 
I could do some of the very extensive research that was 
needed for this historical work I was planning. And I 
was now able to buy some of the basic books in the field 
and so avoid the time that used to be involved in my going 
to the public library for research. 

I came in contact in the course of my first six 
months in Hollywood with what I would call the benign and 



513 



the malign role of John Howard Lawson in dealing with the 
material of other writers. I am not going to discuss him 
as a functionary of the Hollywood Communist party, of course; 
although I had certain strong impressions about it, they 
were not at firsthand. But I will discuss what happened 
with him and other writers. I had known Jack Lawson in 
New York in connection with work in the Dramatists Guild 
and Authors League when he was living there for a year and 
a half, or two, in the thirties. I had heard about his 
very leading role in the creation of the Screen Writers 
Guild, of which he was the first president. And there seems 
no doubt that he earned almost universal respect from other 
writers for his work and his achievements and his leadership. 
By the time I came out here I found that he was held by 
most of the members of the Communist party out here in a 
respect that amounted almost to awe and subservience, none 
of which I felt for him. But there was already an attitude 
that if a writer who was in the party was embarking on a 
project, he or she would serve themselves very well if they 
asked Jack to talk over the project with them, that he was 
always willing to be helpful (and he was) , and that great 
good would come from this. Or, if somebody had written 
something, they asked Jack to read it and Jack would read it. 

Now, I have no doubt that he was helpful to certain 
writers and certain projects, just as I know I was, or 



514 



feel that others would be. But it's one thing to be asked 
to read someone's work and make what helpful suggestions 
or criticisms one can; it's another thing for all of the 
people in an organization to begin to feel that they really 
should not publish anything or submit anything unless Jack 
had approved. That becomes censorship. And indeed it 
worked itself into a most terrible kind of censorship because 
I know of instances where writers gave up books that they 
were going to write because Jack said, "Well, I don't think 
that's the sort of thing you ought to be writing now." I 
know of this, 

GARDNER: Can you cite any examples, or do you care to? 
MALTZ : Yes, I do . I know that Guy Endore gave up one book. 
Now, Guy Endore was a writer in his own right, and I know 
that he gave up a book that Jack said, "I don't think you 
ought to be writing it now." I don't remember other names, 
although I have talked about them, and I know that they 
exist. But this was a widespread thing, and it was a malign 
thing, and it came out of a fact that Jack just got a 
bigger and bigger ego, all of which was hidden by an outward 
show of modesty. But it was expected that you would show 
your work to Jack. And I thought this was wrong, and I 
never made an issue of it because, as I look back upon it, 
it never occurred to me to make an issue of it and perhaps 
I should have. 



515 



And yet I want to qualify that by saying that at 
the memorial meeting for Lawson, which was held within 
the past year, there was an outpouring of respect and 
love for him which absolutely astonished me. I remember 
that Abby Mann, who had come on the scene much later, 
felt that Jack Lawson ' s book, and a meeting he had with 
Lawson, had been inspiring. I remember a wire from Ring 

Lardner [Jr.], who was not present, was so lauditorv that I 
was astonished. And [there were wires] from other people 
as well. And yet that doesn't cause me to temper my 
feeling that the role he played was malign as well as 
benign. 

I think I might mention that my social and recreational 
life was very limited in Hollywood, and it was just about 
as it had been in New York: that is to say, there were 
certain circles of friends that we saw on a Saturday night 
or so, and that was it. We were as far from the Hollywood 
social life that is written about in movie magazines as we 
were when we had lived in New York. We had one friend with 
a swimming pool and we were glad to be invited; but when 
we swam, it generally was at the beach in the summer. I 
spent as much time as I could, and that was considerable, 
with my young son, since my time could be flexible. 
And by the end of the first year, I did get to be a part 
of a Sunday softball game and kept that up all the years 



516 



in Hollywood because I was always crazy about baseball. 

And I would see occasional movies, what you'd call the 

important ones, but I was not a movie buff, and all time 

that I could spare for it went to research. 

GARDNER: In 1942, also, you had a credit for a film 

called Moscow Strikes Back in which you wrote English 

commentary. 

MALTZ: I'm going to come to that. I'm still in '41. 

GARDNER: Oh, all right. 

MALTZ: When I come to '42 I'll speak of that, and I'll 

speak of what happened with This Gun for Hire when it 

opened and so on . 

GARDNER: Okay. 

MALTZ: That's why going by years is for me an easier 

way of organizing. 

GARDNER: Well, my note has Moscow Strikes Back after 

This Gun for Hire , that's why I wanted to make sure it 

got included. 

MALTZ: Yes, it will be. 

From the time of Pearl Harbor, December 5, 1941, 
on, there wasn't, of course, one day in which I, like 
millions of others, didn't follow every event of the 
war with riveting concern. And the events of the war 
were the constant subject of conversation. It led to 
certain activities that I barely remember, such as 



517 



participation in meetings of the [Hollywood] Writers 
Mobilization and those of the League of American Writers 
to help the war effort, and there was a writers board, 
war board or some such name, established by the Authors 
League in the East. I remember I wrote a short, little 
playlet for children having to do with the war to explain 
things, and later on I'll refer to other things I did 
do. Pearl Harbor was a Sunday, or the news came on a 
Sunday, and the very next day, when I went into the 
Paramount studio where I was working, there was big, 
heavy drama, I suppose in Hollywood style: the studio 
gates were locked, and a pass was required, and no one 
was admitted until his name was phoned up to an office, 
and there were police there with their weapons and so on. 

During the next period there was the terrible 
shame of the relocation of the Japanese citizens here 
and the cruel manner in which it was done so that they 
were robbed of lifelong work, possessions. I was one of 
those who bought the spy danger based upon what allegedly 
had happened at Pearl Harbor. I can remember reading 
about alleged Japanese spies on Pearl Harbor who had been 
living there for years and were planted there by the 
Japanese secret service and who had lights on to show 
Japanese planes where to bomb and so on. And I accepted 
what happened. I do know that individuals, like Carey 



518 



McWilliams, did not accept it and protested it, and I 
wish I had been among them — but I wasn't. And that's 
how it happened. 

Now, at that time I was thirty-three and, with a 
sickly wife and a four-year-old child, I didn't consider 
enlisting. But I was 1-A, and there was no telling if 
I would be drafted so I intensified my research work. 
And, in a certain sense, the war gave me the opportunity 
to take time off from organizational work, because in 
all of the previous years on so many things, I , as a 
member of the Communist party, had been urging certain 
public policies that we hoped would take place; but now 
we were in accord with the main public policy, and we 
didn't have to urge Roosevelt to wage the war, as it were, 
as we once had tried to urge him to allow Loyalist Spain 
to buy arms . 

Early in 1942, I went to the story editor of Paramount, 
a very nice man by the name of Bill Dozier, and told him 
that I simply couldn't continue with De Mille. And the 
reason for it was not alone the difficulty I had in working 
with him, but the treatment that he gave to the young 
writer I've mentioned, a man called St. John (I forget 
his first name) . There was one Friday when he said some- 
thing so cruel to St. John, something like, "You haven't 
said anything this af ternoon--is there anything in that 



519 



head of yours?" And he said this in a voice that was 
cutting and sadistic. And I just told Dozier that I 
just couldn't work with a man who would do that. And 
Dozier was sympathetic. He tried briefly to persuade 
me to continue, but I said I couldn't and he said all 
right . 

I was still on contract to the studio, and for 
several weeks they tried me on a number of different 
pieces of work that they had. There was a lousy Dashiell 
Hammett book that I couldn't see into a screenplay. 
GARDNER: Which one? 

MALTZ : I don't remember the name of it anymore. And 
when I say a lousy book--maybe it's a good Hammett 
book . • . 

GARDNER: . . . but it just wasn't . , . 
MALTZ: ... it wasn't, I thought, something for a 
screenplay. And then some other thing. And then for 
four months I was put on the only absolute piece of 
tripe I ever had in film work, and this was something 
called The Man on Half -Moon Street . I was on it with 
a director, an English director, and, I think, another 
writer, and it was, to use a current word, a piece of 
cockamamie in which a man of about 110 years old kept 
himself looking youthful by drinking radium, I believe. 
And he had a desire to marry a young girl, but there 



520 



was a big problem: because he drank radium, he lit 

up at night. [laughter] And so here was this nonsensical 

piece of work, this garbage that we were supposed to 

make into a story, and the only way we survived work 

on it, I know, was talking about all sorts of things while 

doing it. But finally, apparently, we worked out a 

treatment. I have no memory of it, but I know that I 

have an official credit for, I think, story treatment on 

it. It was ultimately made and I never saw it. That 

was an unfortunate experience. 

In May 1942 This Gun for Hire came out, and Alan Ladd 
became an overnight star. The film was very successful 
and got a lot of attention, and I have been interested 
in these past years to see it and find that it was a very 
creaky melodrama--in my opinion, pretty second-rate. 
It doesn't stand up at all, and I just don't know why it 
was successful in the way it was. 

GARDNER: What about compared to some of the other films 
like that of that period? Do you think it holds up any 
worse than they do? 

MALTZ : Yes, worse. For instance, I believe that a film 
like, I don't know. ... I only saw small portions of-- 
What is that Hammett thing that Bogart was in? 
GARDNER: Oh, The Maltese Falcon . 
r4ALTZ: Yes, The Maltese Falcon, I believe, would stand 



521 



up infinitely better, and I know that a number of my 
own films of that period stand up well. But that one 
doesn't. And I was shocked, when I first saw it perhaps 
six or seven years ago, at what a contrived-- It's a 
very contrived melodrama, but it made me remember the 
work with Tuttle. I recall times with him in which I 
woald say, "Well, you can't do a thing like that, it's 
ridiculous." And he'd say, "We'll find an answer, 
we'll find an answer; there's nothing you can't lick." 
Well, we did find answers but they were very contrived. 

In June 1942 my agent arranged with Paramount for 
me to get a six-month leave on my contract. The problem 
with Paramount having me on contract was that they did a 
great many light comedies and musicals, neither of which 
I was able to work on. They didn't have the kind of 
material that would have fitted me better, which Warner 
Brothers had. And so they wanted to keep me on contract, 
but they arranged the six-month leave of absence. And 
I had now been working steadily for twelve months on 
films, and during this period I had paid off my debts 
and bought the car necessary to life in Los Angeles and 
bought some clothes for the L.A. weather and saved up 
enough to start work on the novel. But then I found that 
because of gas rationing, which had come in during the war, 
I could no longer go to the South in an auto for the research I 
needed. I needed to go to various battlefields. I needed 
to go to a good many places .... 

522 







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